Lymphoma is a type of cancer that begins in the lymphatic system, particularly in the disease-fighting immune cells called lymphocytes. These cells are found in the bone marrow, lymph nodes, thymus, spleen, and other parts of the body. In lymphoma, lymphocytes are altered and tend to uncontrollably grow.
The two main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the latter being more common in people diagnosed with lymphoma. Each type of lymphoma grows and spreads differently in the body. Although both conditions develop in a similar way, the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells in Hodgkin lymphoma makes them distinguishable from each other.
Lymphoma can be early detected when its symptoms are properly recognized. Treatment for lymphoma is likely successful when it is early diagnosed. The most common symptoms of lymphoma are:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Unexplained weight loss
- Itching and other skin problems
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
In early lymphoma, the person may experience tiredness over a course of several weeks. The person may also experience an itching sensation. However, the symptoms of lymphoma during the early stages are not specific. The reason is that many other diseases and body reactions could cause such symptoms. If the symptoms continue to persist after some time, consult a doctor immediately.
Night Sweats: A Symptom of Lymphoma
Sweating is a mechanism that cools the body. Everybody sweats throughout the day, but some people may experience night sweats, which is excessive sweating when sleeping in the night. In night sweats, pillows and sheets are drenched with sweat that you are unable to sleep any longer on them. Some people even describe night sweats as if they have jumped into a swimming pool. Some may experience night sweats despite their room being cool.
Lymphoma causes night sweats. These night sweats are so severe that they can make the bed linen and night clothes soaking wet. Night sweats tend to occur with any type of lymphoma. Sometimes, night sweats may happen during daytime as well.
However, it does not necessarily mean that if a person has night sweats, that person already has lymphoma. Even doctors do not know the exact cause of night sweats. In lymphoma, one reason could be that the body’s temperature rises to above normal levels. Sometimes, lymphoma cells produce abnormal hormones and proteins. The body’s reaction to these abnormal hormones and proteins may cause night sweats.
Fever is a natural response to any kind of infection. Fever is also a sign of advanced lymphoma. Mostly, fever in lymphoma is relatively of low grade. However, fever could be accompanied by chills as well. A person with lymphoma and has a fever while sleeping may get night sweats, too. See a doctor if you continue to have an unexplained fever that comes and goes for two days.
In lymphoma, fever usually occurs at night and tends to become more severe and continuous as time goes by. Fever may also be periodic, which means that it may subside and then recurs after several weeks at different intervals. This characteristic pattern of recurring fever is usually observed after the symptoms of lymphoma appear. Fever can cause night sweats, and sometimes, they are the only symptom the person presents to the physician.
Hodgkin lymphoma commonly causes fever with an unusual pattern called Pel-Ebstein fever, wherein there are alternating high and normal body temperatures for days or weeks. Sometimes, chills and night sweats may accompany fever.
Night sweats are one of the primary symptoms of lymphoma, which may occur along with fever and unexplained weight loss. The medical term for night sweats is sleep hyperhidrosis.
Doctors have categorized each NHL stage into two categories based on particular symptoms. It is done to properly describe the disease. However, in 2014, the Lugano Classification dismissed the categories since they do not directly affect the course of treatment. The two categories are:
- “A” – The individual does not have the “B” symptoms.
- “B” – The individual is experiencing the following symptoms:
- Drenching night sweats
- Unexplained fever of above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celcius)
- Unexplained 10% weight loss from the original body weight within 6 months prior to diagnosis
The diagnosis of lymphoma can often be preceded when the general symptoms are combined with other symptoms. In lymphoma, "B" symptoms usually persist for at least six months. However, there are also people with lymphoma who are asymptomatic.
Why do night sweats occur in lymphoma?
There is no clear-cut answer to this question. There have been a number of hypotheses, but a proper cause-effect relationship has not been established.
Night sweats may not automatically mean lymphoma. Actually, having night sweats is a general symptom. A number of other conditions may cause lymphoma. The conditions associated with night sweats could vary from benign to malignant.
If lymphoma is suspected, the doctor will look for other symptoms aside from night sweats. Certain medications such as Fortovase, Roferon, Hivid, Zenapax, Aricept, and Oncaspar may also cause night sweats as a side effect.
Are night sweats a sign of cancer?
Having night sweats is considered as an early symptom of the following types of cancer:
The reason why some types of cancer cause night sweats is not yet clearly understood. However, it could be that the body is fighting cancer along with hormonal changes. To cool the body due to fever, the body may excessively sweat. Some chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of cancer may alter the levels of hormones in the body and may cause night sweats. If night sweats are experienced due to cancer, other symptoms will also be experienced such as unexplained weight loss and fever.
Coping with Night Sweats
Night sweats may stop once the person begins treatment for it. However, night sweats may continue for a while during and after treatment. The reason is that some treatments may cause night sweats as a side effect. For example, certain chemotherapy drugs, steroids, and rituximab may cause night sweats. In some women, undergoing chemotherapy may cause menopausal symptoms, and one of the symptoms is night sweats. The following things may help you cope with night sweats:
- Keep the bedroom cool as much as possible.
- Use bed sheets made of natural materials and not man-made fabric. Choose the same material for your clothes as well.
- Wear night clothes of lighter layers, so it becomes easy to remove and put back on. For the same reason, use thin-layered bed sheets.
- To prevent your bed sheet from soaking wet, keep a towel underneath.
- Avoid eating spicy foods and drinking beverages high in sugar, especially in the evening.
- Avoid consuming caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
- Drink a minimum of 2-3 liters of water every day since the body loses a lot of water through sweating.
- Exercise earlier in the day rather than doing it later at night.
Treating Night Sweats
Treatment is based on the cause of night sweats. If night sweats are due to lifestyle changes or due to environmental factors, then they should go away on their own once the trigger is eliminated. The doctor will prescribe antibiotics if night sweats are caused by an infection. If they are associated with menopause or perimenopause, then the doctor may suggest a hormone replacement therapy. However, there are some complications associated with this therapy.
Off-label drugs are prescribed by doctors intended for other purposes than what the FDA has approved. The doctor prescribes the drugs depending on the cause and best treatment for you.
However, if the night sweats are associated with cancer, then the cancer needs to be treated first before night sweats are treated. The treatment for cancer usually varies since it depends on the type and stage of cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are the most common treatments for cancer. Some treatment drugs such as opioids and tamoxifen may cause night sweats, but they tend to subside as the body adjusts to the treatment. The following off-label drugs may help relieve night sweats:
- Blood pressure medications such as clonidine
- Acid-reducing drugs such as cimetidine
- Epilepsy drugs such as gabapentin
- Antidepressant drugs such as paroxetine
Other Causes of Night Sweats
- Hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause
- Arterial infections
- Idiopathic hyperhidrosis
- Antidepressant medications or hormone therapy
- Fever reducers
- Anxiety and stress
Lifestyle choices may also cause night sweats. They include:
- Drinking hot beverages right before going to bed
- Exercising before bedtime
- Consuming excessive alcohol
- Eating spicy foods close to bedtime
- Thermostat set too high
- Lack of air-conditioning in hot weather
Avoiding these triggers will help you find out what exactly causes your night sweats.
If you regularly experience night sweats, then the outlook will depend on the reason behind your condition. If the night sweats regularly persist for many days, then your body is letting you know that something is wrong. Many causes of night sweats are successfully treated by doctors. If night sweats are associated with cancer, then they usually stop once cancer treatment is started. The earlier you start treatment, the better chances of remission. Thus, it is better not to ignore such symptom.