Those lucky few who’ve never experienced hot flashes have one more reason to celebrate. They might also be less likely to develop breast cancer. But are hot flashes actually warning signs of future illness, or might they point to issues that are far more immediate?
Women who experience severe hot flashes are at higher risk of developing breast cancer. This may be due to higher estrogen levels before menopause. Another possibility is hot flashes often coincide with high-risk factors such as smoking and obesity.
Hot flashes occur when drops in estrogen affect the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature, sex hormones, and numerous other basic functions. For reasons still under study, the hypothalamus misreads the body as too hot, and it reacts as it normally would when it thinks you’re overheating. This results in the flushing and sweating that often come along with hot flashes.
About 80% of women experience moderate to severe hot flashes, with another 17% having mild symptoms. A mere 3% are lucky enough to complete menopause without experiencing a single hot flash.
The Cancer Connection
For an average of 17.9 years, a study tracked 25,499 post-menopausal women who’d never taken hormone replacement therapy. Researchers found women who’d had persistent hot flashes for 10 or more years were more likely to develop breast cancer than those who’d never had hot flashes. Despite the one group’s higher cancer diagnosis rate, their cancer death rates weren’t significantly higher.
The connection between hot flashes and cancer is still unknown, but the symptoms could tell us about sufferers’ prior estrogen levels. The most extreme cases of hot flashes are typically in response to more extreme drops in estrogen levels. Exposure to high estrogen levels increases a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer. Post-menopausal hot flashes could indicate excessive estrogen exposure before perimenopause, indicating a higher breast cancer risk.
Other Important Information
Women who are overweight or smoke cigarettes -- risk factors that make them more likely to get breast cancer -- have a higher chance of experiencing hot flashes. They also have a higher risk of heart disease, which can also cause hot flashes. Women living unhealthy lifestyles should consider their symptoms as potential warning signs that it’s time to make some healthier choices.
Hot flashes themselves don’t cause breast cancer, but they might be red flags that the disease is on its way. Know your personal risks and carefully consider your lifestyle choices. Those hot flashes may be trying to tell you something important. Are you listening?
~ Here’s to Your Health and Wellness