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What Is the Connection Between Night Sweats and Cancer?

Specific kinds of neoplasms commonly produce night sweats in cancer patients, such as those with breast tumors.
Fever and infection in the body can trigger night sweats and abnormal fatigue.
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  • Written By: A. Reed
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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A true night sweat is one during which someone sweats profusely while sleeping, becoming drenched including both the bedding and clothing. While it is a symptom of several disease conditions such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), infections, and hyperthyroidism, it is commonly associated with certain types of cancer. The linkage between night sweats and cancer is related to vasomotor problems and the treatment received, particularly with chemotherapeutic agents.

Maintaining bodily temperature at a relative constant of approximately 98.6° Fahrenheit (37° Celsius) is the principle goal of thermoregulation. Attributed to the vasomotor center's functioning, sweating is a necessary thermoregulatory response of the human body, a homeostatic mechanism required for temperature control and one of four different ways that heat loss occurs. Other paths include convection, radiation, and conduction. With evaporation, temperature decrease is made possible by way of sweating, transforming water into a gas. An upset of the vasomotor heat-control system in individuals with night sweats and cancer, is typically due to a fever caused by an infection, certain medications, a malignancy, or a blood transfusion.

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Specific kinds of neoplasms commonly produce night sweats in cancer patients, such as those with lymphoma and breast tumors. Experts report that, of all people with fevers of an unknown etiology, 20 to 30% of them are diagnosed with malignancies. Manifest by chills, fever, and night sweats, Hodgkin's lymphoma arises from b-lymphocytes, white blood cells quite important to the immune response particularly concerned with the action of antibodies. Sufferers of leukemia and breast cancer survivors have frequent night sweats also.

Another significant connection between night sweats and cancer involves curative treatments. Many cancer patients are treated with chemotherapy, the administration of chemotherapeutic drugs to kill cancerous cells, which can be taken as a shot, a pill, or intravenously. These drugs and radiation treatments increase incidence of infection due to neutropenia, a potentially fatal condition in which white blood cells called neutrophils are at dangerously low levels. Neutrophils are especially essential in fighting off infectious disease and, of all white blood cells, are the most plentiful in the bloodstream. Characterized by fever, night sweating, and fatigue, neutropenia is responsible for a large number of cancer patients being admitted to U.S. hospitals, providing further evidence of the night sweats and cancer relationship.

Treatment for night sweats occurring as a result of treating the cancer itself involves stopping the agent responsible for the condition as soon as possible. Given to strengthen the immune system by increasing leukocyte count, colony-stimulating factors are indicated for people at-risk as a preventative measure, as well as for patients experiencing serious neutropenia symptoms. Bone marrow transplants are generally not used for treatment.

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