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Breast Cancer Treatment and Side Effects: Hot Flashes

Breast Cancer Treatment and Side Effects: Hot Flashes
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Published on August 4, 2020

What is Hormone-Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. And there are numerous subtypes of breast cancer.

One type, estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+), has receptors for estrogen. This means that the cancer cells may receive signals from estrogen telling them to grow. Another type, progesterone-receptor-positive (PR+), has progesterone receptors and receives its signals from progesterone.

If a cancer has a significant number of receptors for either estrogen or progesterone, it is considered hormone-receptor-positive.

Treating Hormone-Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer

Women with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer often receive hormone-blocking therapy as part of their treatment plan. To treat hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, prescription medications like tamoxifen (Soltamox) are frequently prescribed to block these receptors from receiving growth signals from the hormones. But hormone-blocking treatments are not without side effects. 

Hot flashes are one of the most common side effects of hormonal therapy. Hot flashes and night sweats can be very disruptive to a patient’s quality of life, affecting sleep and mood. Recently, the Oncology Nursing Society released new guidelines to help patients mitigate these issues.

Treating Hot Flashes From Breast Cancer Treatment

For breast cancer patients on hormone-blocking therapies, the Oncology Nursing Society recommends:

  • Antidepressants venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and paroxetine (Paxil) as front-line treatment.
  • Clonidine (Catapres) if first-line treatment doesn’t work
  • Sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Sarafem, Prozac), escitalopram (Lexapro), or duloxetine (Cymbalta) suggested for those not responding to venlafaxine, paroxetine, or clonidine.

For all patients, the panel recommends physical activity, such as exercise or yoga. Anecdotal evidence has shown promise for complementary therapies such as hypnosis, relaxation therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acupuncture, and electroacupuncture, but the panel cites the need for clinical trials to show significant numbers to warrant recommending these treatments.

Treatments for hot flashes are available. Talk to your doctor to get the care that's right for you. If you’re considering complementary therapies, like acupuncture, let your oncology team know. To give you the best and safest care possible, they need to have a full picture of your health care, including any self-care.

Life After Breast Cancer Treatment

Breast cancer survivor Gina Olivo shares the challenges of her breast cancer treatment with tamoxifen and the side effects that many patients face.

For Gina, who was diagnosed at age 37, her main goals were keeping up with her family, which included two young children, and her career. Her supportive family and community banded together to help her through the rough patches, and she was able to keep up with the “new normal” for her life.

The encouraging news is that there are a variety of treatments available, and although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, a combination of treatments can help people feel more like their former selves.

Looking for more breast cancer information? Sign up for e-news and we’ll send the most up-to-date articles directly to your inbox. 

~Lauren Evoy Davis


Kaplan M, Ginex PK, Michaud LB, et al. ONS Guidelines™ for cancer treatment-related hot flashes in women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2020;47:374-399.

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