Researchers at the University of Manchester are testing a secret herb in a bid to stop the severe hot flushes that besiege breast cancer patients on hormone treatment.
Professor Alex Molassiotis, of the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, says the herb - one of the mint family, found in any kitchen - is thought to stop the hot flushes and night sweats which can be so bad that some women have to change their clothes three or four times a night.
It is traditionally used by Mediterranean women undergoing the menopause, but Professor Molassiotis cannot name it as he and his team are carrying out a double blind trial (neither the patient nor the doctor is allowed to know whether they are in the group taking the herb or a placebo).
The women are taking hormone treatment to lower oestrogen and progesterone levels as these affect the growth of some breast cancer cells. This can lead to early or revisiting menopause with symptoms such as anxiety, dry skin, bone thinning and hot flushes, with some women having up to 30 flushes a day. It is too risky for them to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) as this will increase the hormone levels again. Instead they are advised to cut out tea, coffee and nicotine, try alternative remedies or a certain type of anti-depressant.
Professor Molassiotis said: "It is hoped that the herbal remedy will be simpler and cheaper to take, as well as more effective, thus improving the lives of women who need all their energy to fight the disease."
He and his team are now recruiting 170 volunteers for the randomized trial, half of whom will take the phytooestrogen herb in the form of a pill and half of whom will take a placebo, from Greater Manchester and Cheshire. Only breast cancer patients who have or are receiving hormone treatments for their cancer are allowed to take part, and only if they experience at least one hot flush a day of moderate and above severity for at least a month. The treatment will be for a total of three months, taking one pill a day. The team will assess the volunteers' hot flushes four times over six months from starting the trial with questionnaires and a blood sample.