CBT is effective for menopausal symptoms after breast cancer treatment

In collaboration with the Press Association

Research funded by Cancer Research UK suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help women who have had breast cancer treatment manage the common side-effects of hot flushes and night sweats.

The research, published in The Lancet Oncology, found that CBT is a safe and effective form of treatment for the 65 to 85 per cent of women affected by such symptoms after having breast cancer treatment.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is not generally prescribed for women with menopausal symptoms who have had breast cancer, as it can  increase the risk of cancer coming back. Also, symptoms can return in women who stop HRT.

To test if CBT is an effective treatment, the researchers recruited 96 women from breast clinics in London, UK, who had problematic hot flushes and night sweats after breast cancer treatment.

The women were randomly split into two groups: one that received usual care only (49 women), and one that received CBT and 'usual care' (47 women).

'Usual care' included having access to nurses and oncologists, as well as telephone support programmes and other cancer support services.

CBT consisted of one 90 minute session a week for 6 weeks, and included psycho-education, paced breathing, and cognitive and behavioural strategies to manage symptoms.

Women were asked to rate the extent to which symptoms were bothersome and interfered with their life during the course of the study. The CBT group had significantly reduced hot flushes and night sweats ratings after nine weeks compared with usual care.

These improvements were then shown to be maintained at 26 weeks.

The authors, led by Professor Myra Hunter of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said: "Our findings show that group CBT can reduce the effect of hot flushes and night sweats for women who have had breast cancer treatment. These reductions were sustained and associated with improvements in mood, sleep, and quality of life.

"Group CBT seems to be a safe, acceptable, and effective treatment option which can be incorporated into breast cancer survivorship programmes and delivered by trained breast cancer nurses."

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: "We know that many women can have problems with hot flushes and night sweats following treatment for breast cancer and that this can be distressing, particularly when they have not previously suffered from these symptoms.

"Although certain drugs can help, many women prefer to seek alternatives where possible. We hope this new approach will provide these women with a more acceptable way of managing these symptoms."

Copyright Press Association 2012

References

  • Mann, E et al, Cognitive behavioural treatment for women who have menopausal symptoms after breast cancer treatment (MENOS 1): a randomised controlled trial, Lancet Oncology (2012) DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(11)70364-3