Trial to reduce impact of hot flushes for breast cancer patients led by Swansea University Professor

Swansea University Professor Deborah Fenlon has been awarded a grant of over £300,000 by leading research charity Breast Cancer Now to begin a clinical trial to investigate the best way to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to reduce the impact of two major side-effects for women undergoing breast cancer treatment.

hot flushes

Hot flushes and night sweats are common side-effects of current breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and anti-hormone drugs. Experienced by up to 70% of women receiving treatment, these menopausal symptoms can have a huge impact on their daily lives.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – normally offered to women experiencing hot flushes as part of the menopause – unfortunately cannot be used by women with breast cancer as it can increase the risk of their disease returning. 

Researchers have already shown that CBT – a type of ‘talking therapy’ – can help to reduce the impact that hot flushes and night sweats have on women undergoing breast cancer treatment, allowing them to regain a sense of control over these symptoms. Although CBT is known to be effective, it is not currently offered routinely within the NHS for women with breast cancer. At present CBT can only be given to groups by trained clinical psychologists and there is nothing currently considered a universal gold standard of care in breast cancer treatment, meaning support to help patients manage these difficult symptoms varies across the country.

Professor Deborah Fenlon from the College of Human & Health Sciences at Swansea University, will lead a three-year clinical trial (MENOS-4) to investigate whether the same CBT could be as effective when delivered by breast cancer nurses instead of clinical psychologists. If so, this could drastically improve access to CBT as most women will see a breast cancer nurse during their treatment.

Professor Deborah Fenlon, Nurse Researcher at Swansea University said: “Hot flushes and night sweats can have a major impact on women’s lives: affecting their work, social life and disrupting their sleep. There are very few effective measures to help support women with this problem, particularly after breast cancer and proven interventions are not widely available. With this study we hope to show how an effective intervention can be offered more widely.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: Professor Fenlon’s research could pave the way for much wider access to CBT to help reduce the impact of hot flushes and night sweats on the lives of women with breast cancer.

We know that CBT is a valuable, cost-effective way to help alleviate two particularly debilitating side-effects of breast cancer treatment, which could drastically improve the quality of life for many women, at this already difficult time.

We need to continue to move towards more tailored and specialised treatments to better support and meet the needs of women living with and beyond breast cancer. We hope this trial will be an important first step to improving access to CBT and we look forward to the results.”

The study will involve up to 160 women undergoing breast cancer treatment who are experiencing severe and frequent hot flushes or night sweats, from six hospitals across England: Princess Alexandra Hospital (Portsmouth), Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, Yeovil District Hospital, York Teaching Hospital, Walsall Manor Hospital and Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Cardiff. The researchers will evaluate the impact of CBT on the women’s hot flushes and night sweats after 26 weeks. In addition, group CBT sessions will be recorded and analysed by independent psychologists, to assess its effectiveness when delivered by breast cancer nurses.