Hot Flashes

Key Points

  • Hot flashes can also be caused by cancer or by cancer treatments.
  • Hormonal, drug and non-drug approaches are available to manage hot flashes.
  • If you are thinking of or are using a natural product for hot flashes, be sure to alert your physician to avoid or manage interactions with treatments and other therapies.

Hot flashes and night sweats are common in people with cancer, more common in women but also occurring in men. They can be a distressing symptom and affect quality of life, particularly when they frequently interrupt sleep.

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Causes of Hot Flashes

The hypothalamus gland is the body’s thermostat. When it senses that the body is too hot, thy hypothalamus causes a reaction similar to a hot flash. When you have a fever and become flushed (red), feel hot and start sweating, the hypothalamus is doing its job.

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When hormone levels change—as in menopause, removal of the ovaries or testicles, or hormonal treatment for breast or prostate cancer—the hypothalamus misreads the signal and thinks the body is too hot, triggering a hot flash.

Managing Hot Flashes

Helpsy Health

Even when people are getting the best of cancer treatment, they often feel like they need more help with organizing their care and managing symptoms and side effects. Helpsy empowers members to take control of their health through a real-time virtual nurse support service. This service is available via mobile devices, a Helpsy website and automated phone calls.

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Conventional Approaches

Hormonal, drug and non-drug approaches are available to manage hot flashes. While estrogen replacement therapy seems to be the most successful therapy for natural or treatment-induced menopause, this therapy is contraindicated in women who have or have had breast cancer, high-risk endometrial cancer or some ovarian cancers. In some of these cancers, suppressing estrogen’s growth-promoting effects on the cancer cells is crucial.3

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Complementary Approaches

A number of complementary approaches can help relieve or reduce the frequency of hot flashes:5

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Estrogen therapy may not be an option for many women who have or have had breast cancer, and some uterine and ovarian cancers. Hormone therapy may also increase risk of breast cancer or cancer recurrence.7 Check with your physician before use.

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.

Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on November 12, 2019.

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Comments (2)

  1. Laura Pole:
    Jul 31, 2018 at 10:43 AM

    Thank-you for your comment. We have edited this page based on further review of evidence.

  2. Natalie:
    Jul 26, 2018 at 01:07 AM

    Don’t forget to add information about ovarian cancer and how hormone replacement therapy is off the table for alleviation of hot flashes. Zero hormones are allowed. There is a fear hormones will make the cancer grow so no estrogen is allowed. Breast cancer isn’t the only one with concerns about estrogen. Endometrioid cancer is another one fueled by estrogen.

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