Hot flushes and sweating

Hot flushes and sweats can be caused by some cancer treatments. Find out more about ways to reduce their severity and how often they happen.

What is a hot flush?

A hot flush can vary from a slight feeling of warmth in the face to night sweats that affect your whole body.

Hot flushes generally last for about 4 to 5 minutes. You may feel sudden warmth in your face, neck and chest. You may become flushed and sweaty. You might also feel your heart beating faster (palpitations) during a flush.

What causes hot flushes and sweats?

Hot flushes and sweats can be caused by some cancer treatments. They are often caused by treatments that lower the levels of the hormones oestrogen or testosterone in the body. Examples of these treatments include:

If hot flushes or sweating are a side effect of cancer treatment, your cancer doctor or nurse can explain how this is likely to affect you. For some treatments, hot flushes and sweating may gradually reduce as your body adjusts.

Other causes

Hot flushes or sweating are a common symptom of natural menopause. But they may also be:

  • a symptom of a health condition or illness – for example, feeling hot and flushed can be a sign of an infection 
  • a symptom of certain types of cancer – for example, night sweats are sometimes a symptom of lymphoma. 

It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you have hot flushes or sweating. They can talk to you about possible causes and treatments. They can arrange tests if needed.

Tips to help with hot flushes and sweats

It is difficult to completely stop flushes and sweats. But you can usually reduce their severity and how often they happen. It is often best to try a combination of approaches.

Certain things cause (trigger) a hot flush. These could include:

  • getting too warm
  • drinking tea, coffee or alcohol
  • eating spicy foods.

Keeping a record of when you have hot flushes can help you find out what triggers them. This can help you try to avoid them.

Practical ways of coping with hot flushes

There are lots of practical things that may help you cope with hot flushes:

  • wear natural fabrics, such as cotton
  • wear layers, so you can remove clothes as needed
  • keep the room temperature cool, or use a fan
  • use cotton sheets and layers of bedding you can take off during the night
  • try a silk pillowcase or a special cooling pillow that contains a gel to absorb heat
  • have cold drinks rather than hot ones.

Making lifestyle changes

These lifestyle changes can also help reduce hot flushes:

Medicines to help with hot flushes

There may be medicines your doctor can prescribe to help with hot flushes if they are caused by:

Complementary therapies to help with hot flushes or sweats

Some complementary therapies, such as controlled breathing, yoga or acupuncture, may help with hot flushes or sweats. Some of these therapies may be available on the NHS. Your GP can give you more details. If you would like to find a complementary therapist, make sure they are properly qualified and registered.

It is a good idea to talk to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse before starting a complementary therapy. Some therapies may affect how your cancer treatment works.