Management of Hot Flashes

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JANUARY 01, 2018

First, wishing you all a Healthy and Happy New Year. I hope that you have had a lovely holiday season and suspect, like me, that you are ready to return to a more regular routine. Today is our anniversary, so we have one more (quiet) celebration to go. When we chose to be married on New Year's Day, we didn't think about the fact that we would have a holiday each year--a real bonus.

As the arctic freeze continues, seemingly endlessly, in New England, an entry about the management of treatment-related hot flashes seems welcome. Many women, even those who have already gone through a natural menopause, experience hot flashes with the initiation of hormone/anti-estrogen treatments--meaning tamoxifen and the AIs. Some men being treated for prostate cancer have a similar experience, and it is even more disconcerting for them. For most people, bodies gradually adjust, and the problem diminishes. For a while, however, it can be difficult.

Is it worse to lose sleep at night by awakening, often more than once, to drenching sweats or to be embarrassed in the middle of a conversation or meeting by a suddenly red face and sweat on the brow? No answer to that one, but this is a concise and useful article from Jama Oncology: 


Hormone Therapy–Related Hot Flashes and Their Management

What Is Hormone Therapy?
Certain cancers, such as some subtypes of breast and prostate cancer, are dependent on sex hormones for growth.Reducing the level and activity of sex hormones is one strategy used to treat them. This is achieved through surgical removal of the ovaries or testes, or more commonly through the administration of certain drugs. By depriving cancers of sex hormones, these drugs act as antihormones, but this treatment is nonetheless called hormone therapy. This hormone therapy is different from the more commonly prescribed hormone therapy used to treat symptoms of menopause.

What Are Hot Flashes?
These are uncomfortable episodes of a sudden sensation of heat originating in the upper part of the body and spreading throughout. They typically last a few minutes and can be accompanied and followed by sweating and anxiety. They may occur infrequently or several times a day, and even during sleep leading to sleep disturbances. These are similar to the hot flashes experienced by women undergoing menopause.

What If Hot Flashes Occur?
Let your physician know if you experience hot flashes. In some cases, the cancer itself, infection, or other medications can cause sweating, which might be confused with hot flashes. Management of hot flashes includes both prevention and treatment; non-medication based techniques can be tried first.

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