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Chill out: relaxation may be the key to relieving menopausal hot flushes

Published: 
19 May 2008

Simple relaxation techniques may help alleviate hot flushes among menopausal women with breast cancer who are unable to undergo standard hormone replacement therapy, say researchers at the University of Southampton.

Approximately 52 per cent of women experience hot flushes during their menopause, but for women who have had breast cancer this may increase to 70 per cent.

The use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is no longer the preferred treatment for treating menopausal symptoms generally, but is specifically not recommended for women who have had breast cancer. Increasingly, therefore, women are seeking alternative non-pharmaceutical approaches for menopausal problems.

The Southampton study assessed how effective relaxation techniques might be in reducing the incidence of hot flushes in women with primary breast cancer. One hundred and fifty postmenopausal women diagnosed with primary breast cancer and who experienced hot flushes took part in the study.

One group of women received a single training session in relaxation based on deep breathing techniques, muscle relaxation and guided imagery. Over a month, they practiced relaxation for 20 minutes once a day at home using an audiotape. They recorded the incidence and severity of hot flushes using a diary and validated measures of anxiety and quality of life. A second control group of women received advice on menopause management but no relaxation training.

The results show that, after one month, the incidence and severity of hot flushes in the group using relaxation techniques reduced significantly by 22 per cent or seven flushes per week, compared to the control group which experienced no change. When examining the impact of flushes on the women's lives, the distress caused due to hot flushes was also seen to improve in the group using relaxation.

Dr Deborah Fenlon, of the University of Southampton's School of Nursing and Midwifery and the study's lead researcher, says: "Our study shows that relaxation may be a useful component in a programme of measures to reduce the impact of menopausal hot flushes in women with primary breast cancer.

"Although the reduction of five to four hot flushes a day may seem small, this could be a real benefit for some women, especially as the severity was also reduced. The relevance of this for women is supported by the significant reduction in the level of distress reported due to flushes."

The researchers suggest that future research might focus on ways to enhance the effect of relaxation on hot flushes, identifying groups of women who might benefit from this approach and also exploring what women perceive to be the real benefits of relaxation to managing hot flushes.

The study was funded by Cancer Research UK and the patients who took part were recruited from the Royal Marsden Hospital, London.

Notes for editors

  • A randomised controlled trial of relaxation training to reduce hot flashes in women with primary breast cancer by Deborah Fenlon (University of Southampton School of Nursing and Midwifery), Jessica Corner (Macmillan Cancer Support) and Joanne Haviland (Institute of Cancer Research) is published in the May issue of the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

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  • For further information

    Sue Wilson, Communications, University of Southampton,
    Tel. 023 8059 5457, email: sjew@soton.ac.uk

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