Hot flushes when having hormone therapy for prostate cancer
You might experience hot flushes if you're being treated with hormone deprivation therapy for prostate cancer.
Hot flushes are the sensation of sudden waves of intense heat and a feeling that the face and whole body is flushing. They are often accompanied by sweating.
Hot flushes can last for a few minutes or up to half an hour. They can happen either occasionally, or regularly and frequently during the day and night.
They can be unpleasant and debilitating. Hot flushes can make your body feel intensely hot and can be overwhelming. You can become drenched in sweat. You may also experience chills as the sweat dries on the skin surface.
Why you get hot flushes
Hot flushes commonly happen with hormone deprivation therapy for prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer can be controlled or treated by lowering the amount of testosterone in your body. This is called hormone deprivation therapy (or androgen deprivation therapy) and can be achieved with an operation, injection or tablets. One of the side effects of low testosterone is hot flushes.
What can help with hot flushes
Flushes can be triggered by certain foods or drinks, your environment or how you feel. The first step to managing your flushes is to find out what your triggers are.
Keep a diary for a few days, noting what you eat and drink, and what you are doing when you experience a hot flush. If you can identify triggers, you may be able to take steps to avoid them, reduce them or minimise the effects.
Common triggers include:
- spicy food
- hot rooms and hot weather
Many people notice that stress can increase the frequency and severity of their hot flushes. There are various ways to reduce stress including relaxation, exercises, massage, meditation and acupuncture.
Our Dimbleby Cancer Care service offers a range of complementary therapies.
Managing your environment
- Dress in layers, so you can take clothes off as you get warmer. Wear cotton, linen or rayon, rather than synthetic fabrics or wool.
- Avoid polo neck tops and wear open-neck shirts where possible.
- Carry a bottle of cold water to sip.
- Keep your home cool. Turn down the heating or use a fan. You may also find it helpful to carry a hand-held battery-operated fan when you go out. Even cheap paper fans can help.
- Wear cotton pyjamas or a nightshirt. If you sweat a lot at night, your nightclothes are easier to change than the sheets.
- Use cotton sheets only, not synthetics.
- Take a cool shower before bed.
- Using a cooling pillow insert, such as a ‘Chillow® Pillow’ may help reduce the number or severity of night-time hot flushes.
Food and drink
Try to avoid food and drinks which trigger your flushes such as spicy foods, caffeine-based drinks and alcohol.
If you smoke, try to stop. Help is available to everyone free of charge on the NHS. Talk to your nurse or doctor, your GP or local pharmacist. Our Stop Smoking service can offer advice and help you to give up. Call 020 7188 0995. Or you can call the National Quitline on 0800 169 0169.
Some herbal medicines claim to help treat hot flushes but there is very limited evidence on their effectiveness and also their safety. Herbal medicines may interact with other medicines that you are taking, or may have side effects that make them unsuitable for you.
If you are considering taking herbal medicines, please speak to your nurse or doctor before you start taking them. Or you can call the pharmacy medicines helpline on 020 7188 8748.
Other medicines from your doctor
Some medicines have been shown to reduce the occurrence and severity of flushes, although the evidence is limited and none are licenced for this use.
If you have tried our suggestions and you are still affected by your hot flushes, you can discuss the suitability of drug therapy with your doctor or specialist nurse. All medicines have side effects and not all medicines are suitable for everyone.
Dimbleby Cancer Care
Complementary therapies can be organised for inpatients or outpatients, and there are regular relaxation and stress management courses and various workshops available for both patients and carers.