There may be a silver lining for women who suffer from menopausal hot flashes—two silver linings, in fact:
Hot flashes may indicate a lower risk for breast cancer. In a study of 1,400 women from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, those who had hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms had half the risk of two common forms of breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma), compared to those who never had symptoms, after controlling for obesity, hormone therapy and other factors that increase breast cancer risk. The worse the hot flashes were, especially if they made a woman sweat and woke her at night, the lower the risk.
Estrogen plays a key role in both hot flashes and breast cancer. Severe hot flashes may indicate a greater drop in estrogen, and this may reduce breast cancer risk, the researchers hypothesize. But more studies are needed to confirm the link.
Hot flashes may be a good sign for your cardiovascular system, suggests a Harvard study of more than 60,000 women, published in the journal Menopause. In contrast to prior research, hot flashes were not associated with increased cardiovascular risk, at least not in women who had symptoms at the onset of menopause. In fact, women who had hot flashes early on were 11 percent less likely to have a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke) and eight percent less likely to die from any cause over a 10-year period than women without symptoms.
“One possibility is that early menopausal symptoms could be a sign of good vascular function—a signal of the normal vascular response to the ongoing hormonal changes at menopause,” said lead author Emily Szmuilowicz, M.D. The small number of women who developed hot flashes years after menopause were at greater risk of cardiovascular events—though this may be due to something unrelated to menopause, such as underlying heart disease.
Bottom line: Hot flashes, which can last five years or more, tend to be most severe early on but subside over time, before going away completely. Still, despite possible health benefits, they can be very bothersome, and many women may need to seek relief.