Night sweats are a common symptom of lymphoma. Sweating can occur in either of the two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). About 1 out of 4 people with HL experiences systemic symptoms like sweating. These symptoms are also found in 1 out of 3 people with high-grade (fast-growing) NHL. People with low-grade (slow-growing) NHL don’t experience sweating and other systemic symptoms as often.
Although it is normal for everyone to sweat sometimes, sweating as a lymphoma symptom is often extreme. It can cause a lot of discomfort and make people feel self-conscious. Many members of MyLymphomaTeam have said that they experience sweating. “Sleepless nights filled with night sweats and itchy skin are the worst,” wrote one member. Said another, “I had profuse sweating at random times during the day. Sweating so bad I had to keep a change of clothes at work. My shirt, T-shirt, pants, and underwear would be soaked. It was the most embarrassing when it happened at work or during a meeting.”
Doctors group lymphoma symptoms into two main categories: local symptoms and systemic symptoms. Local symptoms affect only certain parts of the body. They are caused directly by the tumor and develop when the tumor grows and presses on nearby organs. Local symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, and a feeling of fullness in the stomach. Systemic symptoms, on the other hand, affect the entire body. Sweating belongs in this category, along with other general symptoms like tiredness, pruritus (itching), or infections.
Night sweats belong to a group of systemic symptoms called B symptoms. The three B symptoms are:
Doctors aren’t sure why lymphoma can lead to sweating. Sweating may happen because of chemicals released by cancer cells. Sweating might also occur as a result of fever. Finally, women may experience sweating because of changing hormone levels after cancer treatment.
Sweating can manifest in several ways. People may suddenly have very wet skin or wake up in the middle of the night to find that their nightclothes and bedding are soaked through. One MyLymphomaTeam member said, “I now wake up two to three times a night to change because I am drenched and end up shivering for 30 to 40 minutes afterward.” Another member wrote, “I had to change my pajamas halfway through each night.”
Sometimes, night sweats can make other lymphoma symptoms worse. “I’ve had a rash on the back of my neck in the hairline,” commented one MyLymphomaTeam member. “When I sweat at night it’s like it comes alive with horrible itchiness.”
Although night sweats are more common, sweating can also happen during the day. Many members report that, in general, they feel more sweaty than they used to. One MyLymphomaTeam member said she experienced “profuse sweating with any exertion.” Many other members agreed, with one adding “I too sweat a lot with moving a lot, or being outside in the heat, or after a shower.” One member of MyLymphomaTeam still experiences sweating after 14 years of living with NHL. “I seem to get sweaty easily, more often than I remember, when I do physical work,” he said. “I can wet a T-shirt in 20 minutes.” Said another member, “I sweat more than normal when I get hot — for example, after a hot shower or outside in the summer. I can’t stay outside too long or it takes me soooo long to cool down when I go inside!”
Several people with lymphoma also experience hot flashes, which occur when a person suddenly feels hot or flushed in part of their body. Sweating may or may not be a part of these hot flashes. “I have been having occasional ‘warm bursts,’ not really sweats,” one MyLymphomaTeam member wrote. Sweating or hot flashes may not affect the whole body. They may develop only in certain places. One member said, “I have them now only in my groin, thigh, and behind my knees. Last night, right leg only.”
If your doctor knows that you are experiencing abnormal amounts of sweating, they may run tests to help figure out the cause. Some MyLymphomaTeam members say that this symptom led directly to their diagnosis. “I was really sick and had night sweats,” one member remembered. “My primary care doctor sent me to the hospital, and they diagnosed me.”
Sometimes, sweating is the first sign of lymphoma. “One of my initial symptoms was profuse sweating with activities and also at night,” wrote one MyLymphomaTeam member.
If you experience sweating, it does not necessarily mean you have lymphoma. Some sweating is normal. Physical activity, a warm environment, and feeling scared can all cause sweat. Women often experience sweating and hot flashes during menopause. Other diseases also cause sweating, including anxiety, heart failure, diabetes, and an overactive thyroid gland. Furthermore, certain medications can lead to extra sweat. If you feel that you are sweating more than usual, talk to your doctor — there may be an underlying cause, whether lymphoma or another condition.
Having B symptoms like sweating may affect how your lymphoma is managed. People with B symptoms usually have more aggressive cancer. In people with HL, B symptoms are also a risk factor for relapse (having lymphoma come back after being treated). Doctors may recommend treating people with B symptoms with more aggressive treatment plans.
Night sweats and hot flashes can sometimes be a side effect of chemotherapy. One MyLymphomaTeam member experienced sweating after having her first chemotherapy treatment. “Leaving the hospital, I felt pretty gross. I started sweating profusely which was scary, but I was able to drive home.” The sweating continued that night. “A few hours later, I woke up thinking I must have peed the bed but it was much worse if possible. I was sweating so profusely it looked like I had just showered and laid down in bed!”
Certain lymphoma treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation treatments, may damage the ovaries, leading to early menopause. Menopause can cause hot flashes and sweating, in addition to other symptoms and signs like irregular or absent periods, vaginal dryness, sleep problems, and mood changes.
Sweating can be very hard to manage and decrease your quality of life. However, there are several types of treatments that may help you feel more comfortable.
Certain drugs can help with sweating. These may include medications that treat depression or high blood pressure and over-the-counter pain relievers. If you are sweating because of decreased hormone levels, hormone therapy may also help. Make sure to talk to your health care team before taking any new medications, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements.
Some MyLymphomaTeam members have shared that their health care team was able to help them find solutions for the sweating. “I started getting the sweats my last few times when they quit giving me the IV Benadryl. Once they went back to that, I haven’t had an issue,” wrote one member.
Many strategies can help make drenching night sweats a bit easier to deal with. Some people notice improvements after changing their sleeping habits. You can try:
Some MyLymphomaTeam members have found relief with these strategies. Wrote one member, “A fan does help if I can’t get the air conditioning low enough!” Another suggested: “Sleep without covers. Have one cup of warm milk before bedtime. Or get a sleeping pill from your doctor.”
Changing your diet may also help. Sweating may decrease when you avoid alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, and sugary drinks. Additionally, drinking extra water can make a difference. “I’ll get dizzy and sweaty if I don’t drink at least a half gallon of water or more during treatment,” one member said.
Sweating may decrease over time, as cancer improves or as you finish treatment. One MyLymphomaTeam member with large B-cell NHL found that this was the case: “I just finished my six rounds of R-CHOP. I still have night sweats, but they are getting lighter now it seems.” Another member who has been in remission for 18 months said he used to experience extreme sweating. “Now it happens about one time a month.”
Make sure to tell your doctors about any lymphoma symptoms or treatment side effects that you are experiencing, especially if they are new or getting worse. Your health care team can often help you learn new strategies to deal with sweating.
MyLymphomaTeam is the social network for people with lymphoma and their loved ones. On MyLymphomaTeam, more than 11,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lymphoma.
Are you experiencing sweating while living with lymphoma? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyLymphomaTeam.