Hormone therapy for prostate cancer can change the levels of sex hormones in your body. This can cause hot flushes.
This page is about hot flushes in men with prostate cancer. But some of the tips on how to cope with hot flushes are also applicable to men who have hot flushes for other reasons.
What causes hot flushes in men?
Some prostate cancer treatments lower the amount of sex hormones in the body. These lower levels of hormones can cause hot flushes.
What do they feel like?
They usually start as a feeling of warmth in your neck and face.
What helps hot flushes?
It can help to keep the room cool and to wear layers so you can take them off easily. Treatment includes medicines. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you.
How does hormone therapy cause hot flushes?
Hormones occur naturally in your body. They control the growth and activity of normal cells. Testosterone is a male sex hormone mainly made by the testicles.
Prostate cancer usually depends on testosterone to grow. Hormone therapy blocks or lowers the amount of testosterone in the body.
Different types of hormone therapy cause different side effects. Some treatments such as goserelin (Zoladex) cause hot flushes in most men. Other drugs such as bicalutamide are less likely to cause hot flushes.
For many men, hot flushes gradually get better over several months. For others, the flushes last as long as they are having treatment. They do tend to happen less often over time.
How hot flushes may feel
Hot flushes can vary from one person to another. They can start as a feeling of warmth in your neck or face. This often spreads to other parts of your body. You might have:
- reddening of the skin
- light or heavier sweating
- feelings of your heart beating in your chest (palpitations)
- feelings of panic or irritability
Hot flushes can last between 2 to 30 minutes. You may have a few a month or more often. The flushes usually last for a few months but for some people they carry on for longer.
They can be disruptive and might make sleeping difficult.
Tips to help with hot flushes
Some of the following tips might help to reduce the frequency or intensity of flushes.
- Keep your room cool – use a fan if necessary.
- Wear layers of light clothing so you can easily take clothes off if you overheat.
- Have layers of bedclothes to remove as you need to.
- Wear natural fibres such as silk or cotton instead of synthetic (artificial) fabrics.
- Spray your face with a cool water atomiser.
- Have a lukewarm shower or bath instead of a hot one.
- Put a towel on your bed so you can easily change it if you sweat a lot at night.
- Cooling pads or pillows can help to keep you cool.
- Try to stay calm under pressure as heightened emotions can cause a hot flush to start.
- Sip cold or iced drinks.
- Cut out or reduce alcohol and caffeine drinks such as tea and coffee.
- Reduce or stop smoking (nicotine).
- Cut out or reduce the spicy foods you eat.
Treatment for hot flushes
There are different drugs that can help with hot flushes. Your doctor may also suggest you try complementary therapies such as acupuncture.
Keeping a diary
Hot flushes are often triggered by certain foods or drinks. Some people find that keeping a diary of their hot flushes can help them manage this problem. You can show the diary to your doctor or specialist nurse.
Drug treatments for hot flushes
Medroxyprogesterone is a type of drug called progestogen. This is usually the first choice of treatment. You take 20 mg per day for 10 weeks. After 10 weeks your doctor should review this medication.
Your doctor may suggest you take cyproterone acetate if medroxyprogesterone hasn't worked for you. You usually take 50 mg every day but your doctor can increase the amount to 150 mg if you need.
Research has shown that certain antidepressant medicines can be helpful in treating hot flushes in men with prostate cancer. Examples are venlafaxine and paroxetine.
Gabapentin is a medicine used to treat epilepsy and nerve pain. It can also be helpful in controlling hot flushes but this is rare.
Your doctor may consider other types of progestogens if other treatments haven't helped you. An example of this is megestrol acetate (Megace).
Complementary therapies for hot flushes
There is limited scientific evidence that complementary therapies can help hot flushes in men with prostate cancer. Talk to your cancer doctor, GP, or specialist nurse if you're considering using any complementary or alternative therapies.
Small studies suggest people experience less extreme hot flushes whilst having acupuncture.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
This treatment suggests there is a link between your thoughts and actions. It focuses on calming your body and mind and keeping a positive outlook. This may help with hormonal symptoms such as hot flushes.
Coping with prostate cancer
It can be difficult coping with prostate cancer and its treatment. There is support available.