Are Night Sweats a Sign of Cancer?
- Night sweats happen when your sweat drenches your clothing and bedding.
- This can happen even if your room is comfortably cool.
- Hormonal changes can often cause night sweats.
Sweating is how your body cools itself. It happens to everyone throughout the day, but some people experience episodes of increased sweating at night. Night sweats are more than just breaking a sweat because you have too many blankets on your bed. They cause you, your pajamas, and your bedding to become drenched.
If you have night sweats, your sheets and pillows typically become so saturated that you can no longer sleep on them. Some people describe an episode of night sweats as feeling as if they’ve jumped into a swimming pool. Night sweats may occur even if your room is comfortably cool.
Night sweats may be an early symptom of:
- carcinoid tumors
- bone cancer
- liver cancer
It’s unclear why some types of cancer cause night sweats. This may happen because your body is trying to fight the cancer. Hormone level changes may also be a cause. When cancer causes a fever, your body may sweat excessively as it tries to cool down. In some cases, night sweats occur due to cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, drugs that alter hormones, and morphine.
If your night sweats occur due to cancer, you’ll likely experience other symptoms. This includes a fever and unexplained weight loss.
Although night sweats are a symptom of some types of cancer, they can also happen for other reasons, such as:
- changes in hormone levels during perimenopause and menopause
- increases in hormones and blood flow during pregnancy
- some bacterial infections, such as tuberculosis and endocarditis
- idiopathic hyperhidrosis, a condition which makes your body frequently produce excessive sweat without a medical or environmental cause
- low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia
- certain medications, such as antidepressants, hormone therapy drugs, and fever reducers
- an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism
Lifestyle factors that may cause night sweats include:
- exercising before going to bed
- drinking hot beverages before going to bed
- drinking alcohol
- eating spicy foods close to bedtime
- setting your thermostat too high
- a lack of air-conditioning in hot weather
You may be able to reduce or relieve night sweats by pinpointing any triggering lifestyle factors and avoiding them.
Check out: Tips for dealing with menopausal hot flashes and night sweats »
If you’ve only had an episode or two of night sweats, you probably don’t need to see your doctor. Environmental or lifestyle factors are likely causes. You should see your doctor if night sweats occur regularly and disrupt your sleeping habits. You should consult your doctor if you experience fevers, unexplained weight loss, or other symptoms.
When you call to make your appointment, your doctor may ask you to keep a medical diary in the coming days. You should use this diary to track your symptoms. Each time you have a night sweat, be sure to note what you were doing that day, the temperature in your bedroom, and what you ate or drank before going to bed.
At your appointment, your doctor will review your medical history and assess your symptoms. Your doctor may order blood tests to check your thyroid levels, blood sugar levels, and blood cell counts. The results can help them confirm a suspected diagnosis or help rule out an underlying condition.
If you think your night sweats may be a sign of cancer, discuss this with your doctor. Follow these tips to help you have a successful conversation with your doctor:
- Write down a list of questions or concerns you have ahead of time and bring it to your appointment.
- Bring a family member or friend with you for support.
- Take notes during your appointment to help you remember your doctor’s recommendations.
- If you don’t understand something, ask your doctor to repeat it.
- Ask your doctor if you can record your conversation.
If you believe your night sweats are occurring due to a medical condition such as cancer, don’t let your doctor brush you off. You should insist that they run tests to find out. If your doctor doesn’t address your concerns or take you seriously, consider getting a second opinion.
How night sweats are treated depends on their cause. Night sweats caused by environmental or lifestyle should go away on their own once you eliminate their triggers. If infection is the cause, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
If night sweats occur due to perimenopause or menopause, talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Some kinds of HRT may increase your risk of developing serious conditions, such as:
- a blood clot
- a stroke
- heart disease
You’ll need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of taking HRT against having night sweats.
Off-label drug use
Off-label drug use means that a drug that’s been approved by the FDA for one purpose is used for a different purpose that has not been approved. However, a doctor can still use the drug for that purpose. This is because the FDA regulates the testing and approval of drugs, but not how doctors use drugs to treat their patients. So, your doctor can prescribe a drug however they think is best for your care.
If cancer is causing your night sweats, you must get treatment for cancer to treat the night sweats that it causes. Cancer treatments vary by cancer type and stage. Common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Some cancer treatment drugs may cause night sweats. This includes tamoxifen, opioids, and steroids. As your body adjusts to the treatment, the night sweats may subside.
The off-label use of these drugs may relieve night sweats:
- the blood pressure medication clonidine
- the epilepsy drug gabapentin
- the acid-reducing drug cimetidine
- the antidepressant drug paroxetine
Off-label prescription drug use: What you need to know »
Most people experience the discomfort of night sweats at least once, typically with no lasting problems. If you have night sweats regularly, your outlook depends on why you have them. Persistent night sweats are your body’s way of letting you know something may be wrong. Doctors can treat most causes successfully.
If cancer is causing your night sweats, they usually stop once the cancer is treated. The earlier you seek treatment, the better your chances may be for remission. It’s important not to put off seeing your doctor.