Are Night Sweats a Symptom of Cancer?

Discuss Night Sweats with Your Doctor

woman sweating in bed
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Question: Are night sweats a symptom of cancer?

I have been experiencing night sweats a few times a month for the past few months. A lot of people are telling me that having night sweats is a symptom of cancer. Are night sweats a symptom of cancer?

Answer: First, you should know that night sweats are common. Just about everyone will experience them at some point. Second, you should consider whether you are experiencing true night sweats.

Night sweating is defined as sweating so profusely that your bed clothes and possibly even linens need to be changed.

Night Sweats vs. Hot Flashes and Flushing

Some people confuse night sweats with hot flashes or flushing, which are similar to night sweats, but not the same. Hot flashes are the sudden, strong warm sensation that may begin in the chest and move upward to the face. They can occur any time of the day, not just at night. Flushing is the sudden rise in body temperature that can cause a rosy or reddening appearance to the skin.

Night Sweats as a Cancer Symptom

Night sweats can be a symptom of many types of cancer and is most often associated with lymphoma. However, without being accompanied by other symptoms typical of lymphoma, your doctor may not immediately suspect the disease in his evaluation.

Night sweats are not exclusive to cancer. Though night sweats are an important lymphoma symptom, many other conditions are more likely to cause them than cancer.

In fact, the number one cause of night sweats is menopause or medications that induce menopause.

Your doctor will likely give you a physical exam that includes routine blood work to determine the cause of night sweating. He or she will want to know how often you have night sweats and when they began.

Your personal health history and medications will also be taken into consideration by your doctor. It is very important that your doctor is aware of any medications you are taking, whether they are prescribed, over-the-counter, or herbal supplements.

If It Isn't Cancer, Then What Is Causing My Night Sweats?

You should first evaluate your sleeping environment. Are you sleeping in heavy pajamas? Do you have too many blankets on your bed? Is your thermostat set to a high temperature? You may want to try sleeping in lighter clothing or with fewer blankets to see if that alleviates the night sweats. However, be sure your doctor is aware that you are experiencing night sweats. You should never wait for symptoms to improve or go away on their own, especially if they are persistent.

Your medications may cause night sweats as well. Prescribed medications, such as anti-depressants, are often the culprit of night sweats. Other drugs, like acetaminophen, may also cause night sweats or flushing, so be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the potential side effects of your medication.

Other conditions that are related to night sweats:

Keep in mind that sometimes there is no medical reason why night sweats may occur. After a thorough medical evaluation, sometimes it is found that there isn't a medical cause of night sweats.

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