Night Sweats: Are They a Symptom of Cancer?

  • Night sweats are characterized by people waking with wet bedclothes or sheets, having an increased heart rate, and chills for 1-4 minutes.
  • Night sweats can be related to some cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia; they can also be a side effect of certain cancer treatments.
  • There are steps you can take that may help better control body temperature and ease the symptoms of night sweats.

Medically reviewed by Clare Sullivan, BSN, MPH, CRRN

What are night sweats?

Night sweats are episodes of perspiration that occur at night while you are sleeping. People who experience this condition typically report waking with wet bedclothes or sheets, having an increased heart rate, and chills for 1-4 minutes. Menopause or a fever are leading causes of night sweats, but they can also be related to some cancers or be a side effect of certain cancer treatments.

Which cancers can cause night sweats?

Lymphoma and leukemia are commonly associated with night sweats, but excessive sweating is also linked with carcinoid tumors and adrenal tumors. Night sweats can also be a side effect of some cancer treatments, particularly certain types of hormone therapy commonly used to treat breast, gynecologic, and prostate cancers. Other medications, such as opioids, steroids, and antidepressants, can also cause night sweats.

Night sweats can be related to some cancer or cancer treatments.
Night sweats can be related to some cancer or cancer treatments.

Why do night sweats happen?

Sweating is the body’s normal method for regulating the body’s temperature. When night sweats occur, the body’s thermostat gets confusing messages.

How can I avoid night sweats?

Fortunately, there are steps you can take that may help better control body temperature and ease the symptoms of night sweats:

  • Use sheets and bedclothes made from natural fibers, like cotton. You might also want to try wick-away fabrics that absorb moisture from the skin and dry quickly.
  • Sleep with one foot or leg out from under the covers. This can help cool your body temperature.
  • Use air conditioning or fans to keep air moving and the room temperature cool.
  • Take a cool shower before bed.
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise.
  • Consider using a cool gel pillow.
  • Practice relaxation and stress-reduction techniques, such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation, or breathing exercises. Some studies suggest that the slow and steady rhythm of breathing may reduce night sweats and help you get back to sleep.

Talk with your doctor to learn what might be causing your issues and what steps might best help correct the problem.