Unfortunately, there is no magic pill when it comes to treating or preventing breast cancer. However, there is a medicine that can help lower your risk of developing breast cancer or having a recurrence.
Tamoxifen is one of two chemoprevention drugs that have been approved in the U.S. for breast cancer. Keep in mind, Tamoxifen does include some side effects, which means it may not be the right option for all women. Let’s take a closer look at understanding Tamoxifen so that you can learn if this may be an option for you.
How Does Tamoxifen Work?
Tamoxifen, also known as Nolvadex, is a type of medication called a SERM (selective estrogen receptor modulator). SERMs target selected estrogen receptors, in this case, those in the breast cells. Tamoxifen is categorized as a hormone therapy that is most effective on hormone receptor-positive (HR+) breast cancers, especially those that were found early. Tamoxifen does not have the same beneficial effect on hormone-receptor-negative breast cancer because estrogen does not play the same role in that type of cancer.
HR+ breast cancer relies on hormones (specifically estrogen and progesterone) to grow. Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen from getting to the tumor, essentially making it impossible for the tumor to grow.
You should expect to take Tamoxifen in a pill or liquid form daily for 5-10 years, depending on the specifics of your cancer diagnosis. In some instances, your doctor may recommend taking Tamoxifen for the first five years and then switching to a different medication for additional treatment and prevention. The benefits of Tamoxifen can last up to 15 years.
Who Should Consider Tamoxifen for Breast Cancer?
As mentioned, Tamoxifen is commonly used for treating patients with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. There are other ways that Tamoxifen can be used to help, including:
- Reducing the risk of a breast cancer recurrence
- Reducing the risk of breast cancer developing in the second breast after being diagnosed in one breast
- Shrinking tumors before lumpectomy or mastectomy
- Slowing or stopping the growth of HR+ breast cancer that has spread (metastasized) to other body parts.
- Helping patients diagnosed with ductal carcinoma, which is the presence of cancer cells in a milk duct in the breast that has not spread to other breast tissue.
- Reducing the risk of breast cancer for both pre-and postmenopausal women who are at high risk based on family history, genetic testing, or other factors.
How Effective is Tamoxifen for Breast Cancer Risk Reduction?
Tamoxifen was approved by the FDA for over 40 years for breast cancer treatment. It was approved in 1998 as a breast cancer prevention medication and used by millions of women every year.
Of course, when taking a new medication, it’s only natural to wonder about how effective it is. Millions of people have taken Tamoxifen for breast cancer, so, fortunately, there are statistics that support the effectiveness of this treatment. Here is what you should know:
- May lower the risk of breast cancer in the opposite breast by 50%.
- May lower the risk of initial breast cancer diagnosis by 40%
- May lower the risk of breast cancer recurrence in premenopausal women by 40-50%
- May lower the risk of breast cancer recurrence in postmenopausal women by 40-50%
- May lower the risk of invasive breast cancer after the diagnosis of early-stage, noninvasive breast cancer by up to 50%
An important thing to note is that although a medicine that cuts your risk by 40-50% seems like a great thing, it really depends on how high your risk is in the first place. For example, if you had a 5% risk of getting breast cancer in the next 5 years, a 40% reduction in your risk would mean your risk goes down to 3%, this would only be a 2% overall change. Your doctor will estimate your breast cancer risk based upon your age, medical history, and family history.
Side Effects When Using Tamoxifen
As with any form of medication or treatment, there are certain side effects and risks to keep in mind. Your doctor can discuss what you should do if you experience any of the following side effects or health issues.
Common side effects
Tamoxifen may also cause one or more of the following side effects:
- Bone pain
- Hair thinning
- Weight gain
- Fluid retention
- Skin rashes
- Leg swelling
- Vaginal discharge
- Erectile dysfunction
- Mood swings and depression
- Fertility problems for premenopausal women
- Premature menopause in younger women
- Menopause-like symptoms including hot flashes and night sweats
Rare Effects of Tamoxifen
- Endometrial cancer
- Pulmonary embolism
- Deep vein thrombosis
Can Women Take Tamoxifen for Breast Cancer During Pregnancy?
It is reported that Tamoxifen may cause birth defects. Due to this finding, you should not take Tamoxifen if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. If you do take Tamoxifen, you should continue to take a contraceptive to avoid pregnancy. You should continue to take a contraceptive for up to two months following your last Tamoxifen dose to avoid potential birth defects should you become pregnant.
Learn about Your Breast Cancer Treatment and Prevention Options
Tamoxifen may be the right choice if you wish to lower your risk of developing breast cancer or would like to reduce your risk of recurrence. To learn more about Tamoxifen or other breast cancer treatment options, contact our Breast Cancer Specialists at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers. Our team can help you evaluate the right choices for you whether you’re a high-risk patient, recently received a breast cancer diagnosis, or if you’re a breast cancer survivor. Find a location near you.