FRIDAY, Dec. 7, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Hot flashes, a common curse in menopause, can be especially bothersome after breast cancer. But a new study suggests an existing medication may help.
The drug is oxybutynin (Ditropan XL), long used to treat urinary incontinence.
The study found that women taking the medicine had an average of five fewer hot flashes a week, compared with three fewer among women taking a placebo.
“Oxybutynin is an option that can control these symptoms and improve quality of life,” said lead researcher Dr. Roberto Leon-Ferre, an assistant professor of oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
There are a couple of reasons for severe hot flashes after breast cancer. Chemotherapy may induce early menopause, and drugs that reduce estrogen levels may make hot flashes worse, the research team noted.
Hormone replacement therapy, which is often recommended for menopausal symptoms, is generally not advised for breast cancer survivors. That’s left women who can’t take hormones at a disadvantage.
Oxybutynin blocks a substance in the brain, and one of its side effects is decreased sweating, Leon-Ferre noted.
“Because of this, we can take advantage of the ‘side effect’ and decrease involuntary sweating associated with hot flashes, and decrease the hot flashes as well,” he explained.
The drug could be game-changing for certain women, said Dr. Alice Police, regional director of breast surgery at Northwell Health Cancer Institute in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.
“This is a really important advance in survivorship and compassionate cancer care,” added Police, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Because oxybutynin is already available for other conditions, Leon-Ferre said doctors could prescribe it off-label.
However, he cautioned that its long-term effects aren’t known. Drugs in this class — called anticholinergics — have been linked with mental decline, he said.
For example, the drugs may raise the risk for problems with short-term memory, reasoning and confusion, and may also hike the risk for dementia among older patients, studies indicate.
For the new study, Leon-Ferre and his colleagues randomly assigned 150 women who experienced at least 28 hot flashes a week to oxybutynin or a placebo.