News Flash on Hot Flashes

Cancer survivors had more severe hot flashes than women with no cancer history

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Women literally lose their cool when hot flashes hit. Fanning, removing clothing or kicking off bed linens may be required for her to regain her physical - and feminine - cool. A recent study looked at which women seemed to get the hottest of hot flashes. This study showed that cancer survivors had worse hot flashes than women who hadn't had cancer. And their flashes were more frequent.

Despite the severity of these menopause symptoms, cancer survivors reported better psychological health and overall quality of life than women who hadn’t been treated for cancer.

"Talk openly with your doctor about your menopause symptoms."

Jennifer L. Marino, MPH, PhD, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia, was first author of this study.

Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told dailyRx News, "These findings are not surprising, since some of the therapies we use for cancer in women, such as tamoxifen, can make hot flashes worse. It is encouraging that these women appear to do better psychologically, possibly due to better support."

For this study, questionnaires were given to and completed by 934 cancer survivors and 155 cancer-free women.

Most of the cancer survivors (90 percent) had been treated for breast cancer. The women had all been patients at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Western Australia.

The average age of participants at the time of their first clinic visit was 51, and the median (middle) age of menopause onset was 46.

Most of the participants were married or had lived with a partner at some point, and had given birth to at least one child.

Study questionnaires asked the women about their occupations, marital status, smoking status and alcohol consumption, family cancer history, pregnancy and childbirth history, menopause status and date of last menstrual period.

Here’s what the study uncovered:

  • 76 percent of the cancer survivors reported having hot flashes over the previous 24 hours, compared to 54 percent of the women without the disease.
  • 60 percent of survivors described their hot flashes as being severe or very severe, compared to 40 percent of the cancer-free women.
  • Survivors said they had menopausal symptoms for longer periods than did cancer-free women; some survivors dealt with symptoms years after cancer therapy had ended.
  • 16 percent of women who had been treated for cancer reported psychological problems (depression, severe mood swings, sadness, irritability, etc.), compared to 27 percent of women without a history of cancer.
  • Cancer survivors scored their overall social, family, physical and functional well-being higher than did the participants who had never had cancer.
  • Both groups reported similar levels of sexual activity and vaginal dryness; however, the survivors were more likely than non-survivors to blame sexual inactivity on a physical problem.

The study's authors pointed out that treating menopause symptoms in female cancer survivors is a challenge because hormonal therapy is not recommended, as it could have a negative impact on prognosis. Most breast cancers are fueled by the hormone estrogen.

"Information about the nature and severity of menopausal symptoms after cancer is needed to inform the development of appropriate evaluation and management protocols," the authors concluded.

Findings from this research will be published in the March 2014 issue of Menopause.

This research was supported by King Edward Memorial Hospital, AstraZeneca, the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Center and the National Breast Cancer Foundation of Australia. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 19, 2013
Last Updated:
July 29, 2013