Hot Flashes: An Effective Treatment at Last?

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • The Lancet Oncology, a monthly British journal focusing on cancer research, contains a small article in its June edition that will probably slip right past most people. But for millions of women worldwide, this article may hold the key to their health and happiness for years to come.


    A new all-natural mood elevator? Safe, side effect-free birth control? Maybe the second coming of Retin-A? How about a possible cure for hot flashes? Now we're cookin' - literally!


    Hot Flashes and Breast Cancer Treatment


    Hot flashes are one of the truly annoying side effects of many types of breast cancer treatment. They're not going to kill you (though they may make you want to kill the doc who sent you down the hot-flash path). They're not 100% debilitating like, say, the crushing fatigue of radiation or overwhelming nausea of chemo experienced by some of us. No, hot flashes are just annoying. REALLY annoying. Like, if there had been an Eighth Plague of Egypt, hot flashes would have been it.

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    What, you've never experienced a hot flash? Here's what it feels like: a volcano erupting in your chest, the lava flowing up your neck, into your head, and down your arms and legs. REALLY hot water being poured over you, from head to toe. Suddenly being set ablaze, then just as suddenly being doused in lukewarm water. You're superheated, then chilled; or so thoroughly drenched in clammy sweat that you have to change your clothes (and the bed sheets, if you happen to be sleeping. Which you won't be, once the flash hits.)


    So, now you know what a hot flash feels like. Imagine having 10 or more a day. Week after week, month after month, for years on end. Is it any wonder breast cancer survivors look longingly at the only proven hot flash cure - estrogen therapy - and consider which is worse: hot flashes, or the chance of recurrence that estrogen apparently promotes?



    Hot Flash Research Study and Breast Cancer Survivors


    But back to that journal article. Dr. Eugene Lipov of Advanced Pain Centers, an institution devoted to state-of-the-art, innovative medical therapies in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, tested a new treatment on 13 breast cancer survivors with debilitating (over 80 per week) hot flashes-and it worked exactly as hoped for.


    This treatment, the so-called stellate-ganglion block, is an injection into the center of a group of nerves in the neck that controls body temperature. The result? Study participants reported a 90% reduction in all hot flashes; and a nearly 100% reduction in severe hot flashes-for up to a year after the injection. And the side effects? Minimal: a temporary change in pupil dilation, and temporary drooping of the eyelid.


    Aside from providing welcome relief to breast cancer survivors, this treatment could also help save lives: fully 50% of survivors taking anti-estrogen therapy (e.g., tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors) stop treatment within six months due to side effects: mainly hot flashes.


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    Preliminary Study -- More Research Needed


    Dr. Lipov was the first to point out that the study was very small; didn't include a control group; and will need to be repeated, on a much larger scale, to confirm the treatment's effectiveness. But for those of us wishing we jump in a cold shower multiple times a day, or constantly stand in front of the open freezer door, fanning cold air onto our burning faces, this small study could be the start of something big.

Published On: May 22, 2008