How Can I Deal With Hot Flashes Resulting From Breast Cancer Treatment?

Question from Kim Regan: Hi My name is Kim Regan. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2007. My question is: At nighttime I get hot flashes and they are very intense. I was wondering if there's something I can do to at least lower the intensity and maybe be able to sleep through it instead of being woken up at night.

Response from Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., American Cancer Society: Hot flashes are not an uncommon problem in women who are treated for breast cancer. The treatments themselves can frequently either cause menopause or can increase the symptoms that a woman has, if she's already in menopause.

Unfortunately, the treatment for menopausal symptoms, the one that's used by most doctors for their patients, includes the use of hormones. And unfortunately, hormones may increase the risk of breast cancer coming back. So that means that you and your doctor have to decide what other treatments may be available. And there are other treatments, such as antidepressants and other medications, that the doctor can prescribe to help you with hot flashes. A lot of women with breast cancer think that they can take soy protein. Soy protein has -- it's called a 'phyto-estrogen' -- it has effects similar to estrogen, but it's a plant source; it doesn't come from the usual sources that estrogen and progesterone come from.

However, you need to know that we really don't understand whether or not that's a good idea. In fact, there is some concern that if you take soy proteins, it may increase your risk of breast cancer returning, and may not be very helpful for you in the long run. So if you're having serious symptoms, hot flashes and so forth, when you're on your treatment for breast cancer, or after your treatment for breast cancer, it's very important you speak to your doctor before you take anything to help treat those symptoms.