There are a variety of complementary therapies that may help you to control hot flushes. Some of these have been researched, but for others the evidence is only anecdotal (based on personal accounts rather than facts).
Some of these therapies may be available on the NHS; your GP can give you further details. If you would like to find a complementary therapist, make sure that they are properly qualified and registered. The British Complementary Medical Association has lists of registered therapists throughout the UK.
It's a good idea to discuss the use of any complementary therapy with your doctor, as some therapies may interfere with your cancer treatment.
Acupuncture involves putting sterile needles through the skin at specific points in the body. There is some evidence that acupuncture may help reduce the frequency and severity of hot flushes. If you've had surgery to the lymph nodes under your arm, it’s important to avoid having needles inserted in the arm or chest on that side. This is because of the risk of arm swelling (called lymphoedema).
Doing breathing exercises may help. Two research trials have shown that using a slow controlled breathing technique called paced respiration can be an effective way to manage hot flushes. The results showed that the number of flushes was reduced on average by 50-60%.
To develop paced respiration, it’s important to practise for 15 minutes twice a day. Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably without being interrupted while you practise the following exercise:
Keep your rib cage still and breathe in and out by using your stomach muscles (pushing out and pulling in your tummy muscles).
Without moving your rib cage, breathe in for 5 seconds and then breathe out for 5 seconds.
Once you're confident in doing paced respiration, you can use it whenever you feel a flush coming on. You should continue with paced respiration until you feel the flush has passed.
There's also a yoga breathing technique, known as the 'cooling breath' or sheetali, that can help to reduce your body temperature. Contact the British Wheel of Yoga to find a registered yoga teacher.
This involves putting sterile needles through the skin at specific points in the body. There is some evidence that acupuncture may help reduce the frequency and severity of hot flushes. If you've had surgery to the lymph nodes under your arm, it’s important to avoid having needles inserted in the arm or chest on that side. This is because of the risk of arm swelling (lymphoedema).
Hypnosis may be able to help reduce the length and severity of hot flushes, according to some evidence. It's unlikely to be available on the NHS. Contact the British Complementary Medicine Association to find a registered practitioner.
This uses tiny amounts of substances that would normally produce the symptoms being treated. There's no scientific proof that this works, but some women find that it helps to improve their menopausal symptoms.
Plant oestrogens (phytoestrogens) can have a weak oestrogen-like effect and may help improve menopausal symptoms. However, there's concern that they may also increase the risk of breast cancer coming back (recurrence).
The two most commonly used plant oestrogens are black cohosh and red clover.
Black cohosh contains phytoestrogens and may help improve flushes, although the evidence is inconclusive. Side effects include sickness (nausea), vomiting, headaches and possible liver damage.
Red clover contains chemicals called isoflavones, which are a type of phytoestrogen. There is less evidence as to whether or not it can help reduce menopausal symptoms. It may increase the risk of bleeding and should not be used by women taking medication to thin their blood (anticoagulants).
Breast cancer treatment guidelines don’t recommend that women who've had breast cancer take plant oestrogens to treat menopausal symptoms. If you're planning to take them it’s important to talk this over with your cancer doctor or breast care nurse first.
Some women find evening primrose oil helpful for relieving menopausal symptoms, although it's expensive and there's no scientific evidence that it works.
There's no good evidence to suggest that Vitamin E helps reduce menopausal symptoms, and its use isn’t recommended. Recent studies have found that taking Vitamin E supplements may slightly increase health risks for people in the general population and may be especially harmful for people who have heart disease.