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Night Sweats And Cancer: What Are The Causes?

Dealing with cancer is tough enough. But struggling with night sweats is an added stress that can disturb your sleep and reduce your energy levels at the time when you need them most. However, there are actions you can take to get a better night’s sleep. In this article, we take a look at what causes night sweats in cancer patients – and how you can find relief.

It’s important to remember that while night sweats are sometimes a symptom of cancer, experiencing them does not necessarily mean that a person has cancer. In fact, there are many different possible causes of night sweats. If you do begin experiencing these symptoms, you should consult your GP to identify the underlying cause.

What Causes Night Sweats in Cancer Patients?

There are several factors that tend to cause night sweats in cancer patients. These are:
  • Certain cancer medications, in particular chemotherapy drugs, morphine and hormone treatments, can trigger night sweats in cancer patients. If you believe that your medication may be disturbing your sleep, it’s important that you speak to your GP or consultant to discuss your concerns.
  • Certain types of cancer: Cancers associated with night sweats include bone cancer, carcinoid tumours, leukaemia and liver cancer, although they can affect people with other types of cancer too. There is also a connection between drenching night sweats and lymphoma specifically (see below).
  • Infections: Night sweats in cancer patients can also be a sign that your body is fighting infection. Because treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can weaken the immune system, cancer patients can be more susceptible to infections.

Lymphoma and Night Sweats

While various types of cancer can cause increased sweating, there is a particular association between lymphoma and night sweats. Both Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can cause you to wake feeling hot and clammy, even resulting in drenching night sweats.

It is not known exactly what causes night sweats in cancer patients with lymphoma specifically. However, it may either be the body’s way of coping with an increase in temperature at night or a reaction to abnormal proteins and hormones produced by the lymphoma itself.

Dealing with Severe Night Sweats and Cancer

If you are struggling with excessive sweating and cancer treatment, your first step should always be to speak with your doctor, nurse or consultant. They may be able to help you identify the cause of your night sweats – is it medication, an underlying infection or the cancer itself? – and provide you with specific advice based on this. Depending on the cause, they may also be able to prescribe you additional medication or adjust your current treatment to alleviate the symptoms.

To help your doctor give you the best possible advice, you may want to keep a diary of your night sweats and take this to your appointment.

Other steps you can take to alleviate your night sweats during cancer treatment include:
  • Keep your bedroom well ventilated at night: Leave a window open if you can or keep a fan running. Make sure that you keep central heating turned off or turned down to a minimum at bedtime.
  • Watch what you eat: Certain food and drink can trigger night sweats, so it is wise to avoid them in the hours before bed. Common triggers include:
    • Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and cola
    • Alcohol including wine, spirits and beer
    • Hot and spicy foods such as curry, chilli or peppery sauces
  • Wear natural fibers: Opt for pyjamas or a nightdress in either cotton or silk, as these fibers are more breathable and also better able to absorb moisture, helping you to stay cool and dry, not clammy.
  • Choose natural fibers for your bed too: Cotton sheets and covers will help to keep you cool. For maximum benefit, partner these with a complete wool bedding set (duvet, pillows, topper and protector), as this natural fiber is even more absorbent than cotton. Learn more about the sleep-enhancing benefits of wool.
Looking for more information about common sleep issues? Visit our Sleep Health & Advice hub.