Sweating and night sweats are fairly common in people with cancer. They can be a distressing symptom and affect the quality of life, particularly when they frequently interrupt sleep.
Sweating can be described as the body suddenly feeling hot. They typically begin with an uneasy feeling, then feeling intensely hot in the face and/or upper body, then feeling hot all over. Before or during the sweating, people may feel nausea, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and headache.[ 1 ] There may be flushing and sweating. According to the National Cancer Institute, sweating and night sweats may be side effects of cancer or its treatment.[ 2 ]
Causes of Sweating
The hypothalamus gland is the body’s thermostat. When it senses that the body is too hot, the hypothalamus causes a reaction similar to a sweating. When you have a fever and become flushed (red), feel hot and start sweating, the hypothalamus is doing its job.[ 1 ]
Sweating can be caused by the following:
- Hormone therapy
- Surgical removal of ovaries or testes
- Radiation damage to the ovaries, testes or the hypothalamic region of the brain.
- Drugs such as opioids
- Tricyclic antidepressants
Hormonal, drug and non-drug approaches are available to manage sweating. Even though 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 ]
Sweating in men with prostate cancer may be treated with estrogens, progestin, antidepressants and anticonvulsants. However, certain hormones (such as estrogen) can make some cancers grow or increase your risk of other cancers.[ 3 ]
A number of complementary approaches can help relieve or reduce the frequency of sweating:[ 4 ]
- Dietary strategies such sipping on ice-cold drinks, or reducing or avoiding alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods
- Mind-Body approaches such as:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Approaches for managing stress
- Sleeping well by creating a more comfortable environment such as wearing light cotton clothing and running a fan or opening a window to cool the bedroom
Before starting any of these therapies either consult a physician or talk to us to find safer ways to practice this.
- Credit: BCCT: Sweating
- National Cancer Institute:
- MedlinePlus: Cancer treatment: dealing with sweating and night sweats
- Cancer Research UK: Hot flushes and sweats in women
- Cancer Treatment Centers of America: Sweating
- For dosing and drug interactions of vitamin E, dl-phenylalanine, black cohosh and hesperiden, see Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010.
- Hill DA, Crider M, Hill SR. Hormone therapy and other treatments for symptoms of menopause. American Family Physician. 2016 Dec 1;94(11):884-889.
- Barbara MacDonald, ND, LAc: The Breast Cancer Companion: A Complementary Care Manual: Third Edition
- September 2018 Issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
- Wayne Jonas, MD: Your Healing Journey: A Patient’s Guide to Integrative Breast Cancer Care
- American Society of Clinical Oncology: Cancer.Net
- Donald I. Abrams, MD, and Andrew T. Weil, MD: Integrative Oncology, 2nd Edition
- Neil McKinney, BSc, ND: Naturopathic Oncology, 3rd Edition