Fever, Sweats, and Hot Flashes (Patient)
In patients with cancer, fever may be caused by infection, a tumor, or reactions to drugs or blood transfusions.
Sweating is the body's way of lowering body temperature by causing heat loss through the skin. In patients with cancer, sweating may be caused by fever, a tumor, or cancer treatment.
Fever, sweats, and hot flashes affect quality of life in many patients with cancer.
A treatment plan to help manage fever, sweats, or hot flashes is based on the patient's condition and goals of care. For some patients, relieving symptoms and improving quality of life is a more important goal than treating the fever to prolong life.
This summary describes the causes and treatment of fever, sweats, and hot flashes in cancer patients.
Causes of Fever in Patients with Cancer
Fever is a rise in body temperature caused by the body's response to illness.
Normal human body temperature changes during each 24-hour period according to a definite pattern. It is lowest in the morning before dawn and highest in the afternoon. Temperature control actions in the body keep the amount of heat that is made equal to the amount lost. This keeps body temperature normal.
An abnormal rise in body temperature is caused by either a condition called hyperthermia or fever. Hyperthermia is caused by a breakdown in the body's temperature control actions. In fever, the temperature controls in the body are working as they should, but body temperature rises as the body responds to illness.
There are three phases of fever:
Certain problems are more likely in older people or the very young. In older people, the temperature control centers in the brain may not work the way they should and can lead to hyperthermia. This may cause irregular heartbeat, lack of blood flow to parts of the body, confusion, or heart failure. In children between 6 months and 6 years old, high fever may lead to seizures.
There are many possible causes of fever in patients with cancer.
The main causes of fever in patients with cancer are reactions to:
Other causes of fever in cancer patients include:
Patients with fever need to be checked carefully for signs of infection.
The doctor will ask questions about past medical problems, check all medicines the patient is taking, and do a physical exam to look for the cause of fever. Patients, especially those who have fever and neutropenia (a very low white blood cell count), will have a complete checkup for signs of infection. Some of the areas the doctor will check include:
Patients with neutropenia may not show the usual signs of infection. These patients need to be checked often and should see their doctor if they have a fever.
eMedicineHealth Public Information from the National Cancer Institute
This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER
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