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Prozac Shows Promise for Hot Flashes in Breast Cancer Survivors

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Similar to Prozac, investigation of the newer antidepressant Effexor (venlafaxine) has shown a reduction in hot flashes by half among women who took it.

At the symposium, Loprinzi offered what amounted to a preview of a trial being conducted by the National Comprehensive Cancer Treatment Group using Effexor, where preliminary findings aren't expected until spring. Still, Loprinzi says early findings show higher doses of Effexor were significantly more effective than placebo at limiting the amounts of hot flashes, often by half.

Loprinzi also pointed out that a report at the 1998 San Antonio meeting also showed favorable results with the antidepressant Paxil (paroxetine), which is similar to Prozac, for relief of hot flashes in breast cancer patients. Favorable results have been reported for other new generation antidepressants, including Zoloft (sertraline) and Wellbutrin (bupropion).

During a question-and-answer session at the San Antonio symposium, an unidentified physician in the audience said Paxil is associated with some risk of decreased libido, a side effect common to most drugs in its class of antidepressants. Representatives of breast cancer patient advocacy groups also expressed concern about the use of "powerful, potentially psychotropic (mind-altering) agents to treat hot flashes" when other options are available to breast cancer survivors, including natural therapies such as vitamin E and physical activity.

In response to the concerns, Loprinzi said, "These patients wanted to participate in this study because they had tried other therapies that hadn't worked. The hot flashes had become extremely bothersome to them, and they were willing to try something different. The patients were fully informed about the use of Prozac."

Among natural approaches to relieve hot flashes, soy currently generates the most enthusiasm, Loprinzi says.

Vital Information:

  • The antidepressant Prozac may be an effective treatment for breast cancer patients who are experiencing hot flashes.
  • Currently larger trials are underway to better define its effectiveness, as well as trials to research the effectiveness of other antidepressants in reducing hot flashes.
  • Some experts question the use of these medications to treat hot flashes, when other potential treatments are available, including vitamin E and physical activity.
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