What is the connection between night sweats and cancer?

A true night sweat is one in which someone sweats profusely while sleeping, soaking through both bedding and clothing. Although it is a symptom of several diseases such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), infections, and hyperthyroidism, it is commonly associated with certain types of cancer. The link between night sweats and cancer is related to vasomotor problems and the treatment received, particularly chemotherapeutic agents.

The main goal of thermoregulation is to maintain body temperature at a relative constant of about 98.6° Fahrenheit (37° Celsius). Attributed to the functioning of the vasomotor center, sweating is a necessary thermoregulatory response of the human body, a homeostatic mechanism required for temperature control, and one of the four different ways in which heat loss occurs. Other pathways include convection, radiation, and conduction. With evaporation, the decrease in temperature is possible through sweating, transforming water into gas. A disorder of the vasomotor heat control system in individuals with night sweats and cancer is usually due to a fever caused by an infection, certain medications, a malignancy, or a blood transfusion.

Specific types of neoplasms commonly cause night sweats in cancer patients, such as those with lymphoma and breast tumors. Experts report that of all people with fever of unknown etiology, 20 to 30% of them are diagnosed with malignant tumors. Manifested by chills, fever and night sweats, Hodgkin's lymphoma arises from B lymphocytes, white blood cells quite important for the immune response, particularly concerned about the action of antibodies. Leukemia victims and breast cancer survivors also have frequent night sweats.

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

Treatment for night sweats that occur as a result of the cancer treatment itself involves stopping the agent responsible for the condition as soon as possible. Because it strengthens the immune system by increasing the white blood cell count, colony-stimulating factors are indicated for people at risk as a preventive measure, as well as for patients experiencing severe symptoms of neutropenia. Bone marrow transplants are not usually used for treatment.

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