Managing hot flashes in cancer

hot flashes and cancerHot flashes are annoying and bothersome. They interrupt activities of daily living, and depending on their severity and frequency, can greatly impact a person’s quality of life. In cancer patients, they can affect both men and women undergoing cancer treatment.

Hot flashes are described as an intense heat sensation that involves flushing and sweating of the face and trunk. They can affect 34% – 80% of breast and prostate cancer patients.

Assessing the severity and frequency is helpful in determining what interventions are working. Patients may want to keep a diary and record the frequency and duration of hot flashes, noting possible triggers. Reporting symptoms to your health care provider and the interference they have with social activities, sleep, daily living and quality of life is important.

Risk factors

  • Women with breast cancer undergoing hormone treatment such as tamoxifen, or an aromatase inhibitor like Arimidex, Aromasin or Femara
  • Men with prostate cancer receiving hormone treatment with agents such as Lupron or Casodex.
  • Women with treatment induced menopause from surgery or chemotherapy
  • Use of other medications such as opioids (pain medicine such Vicodin or Oxycontin), tricyclic antidepressants and steroids
  • Increased weight
  • Lack of exercise

Lifestyle measures that can lessen symptoms

  • Avoid triggers such as caffeine, smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Drink cold beverages
  • Wear cotton clothing and use cotton bedding
  • Dress in layers
  • Use electric fans in work areas and bedroom for night time
  • Stress reduction (meditation, yoga, tai chi, relaxation therapy and massage)
  • Wear a cooling bandana or chilling towel that athletes use
  • Seeking support from support groups or counselors can help manage stress

The Oncology Nursing Society lists the following two medications that are likely to be effective based on evidence that has been studied thus far:

  • Gabapentin (Neurontin): Reduced hot flashes in men with prostate cancer and women with breast cancer
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor) reduced hot flashes in women with breast cancer

The medication paroxetine (Paxil) has been shown to be effective, but can interfere with tamoxifen in women with breast cancer, and should be used with caution in that population.

There have been some promising results involving studies related to alternative treatments, and continued research needs to be done to confirm their effectiveness before they can be recommended for practice. Alternative treatments include acupuncture, hypnosis, vitamin E and the herbal supplement black cohosh.

Take the next step:

  • Learn more about night sweats and hot flashes from the National Cancer
  • Read more from the Oncology Nursing Society on evidence-based remedies for cancer treatment-induced hot flashes.
  • Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.

KimZThe Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.




Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.