Tamoxifen is a drug taken as a pill that decreases the activity of estrogen, a female hormone. Estrogen can cause some forms of breast cancer cells to grow. Tamoxifen is used when breast cancer has been found early and treated in order to prevent the original breast cancer from returning.
Tamoxifen is also used in those who have breast cancer that is metastatic (spread to other areas of the body). When breast cancer has spread to other areas of the body, tamoxifen slows or stops the growth of these cancer cells. Tamoxifen is only effective in treating breast cancer cells that grow with the presence of estrogen.
In women taking tamoxifen, there is a small risk for blood clot formation. The total number of women who have experienced this side effect is small. There is also the risk for stroke.
Tamoxifen increases the risk for the development of cancer in the uterus. Like most cancers, cancers of the uterus can be life-threatening. If one develops vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain then these could be symptoms of cancer of the uterus and require a prompt evaluation by a doctor. Women who have had their uterus removed and are taking tamoxifen are not at increased risk for the development of cancer of the uterus.
Other possible side effects of tamoxifen are similar to symptoms of menopause and may include hot flashes, vaginal discharge, vaginal dryness or vaginal itching, irregular periods, headaches, feeling tired, nausea and vomiting.
Aging women are at risk for the development of cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye). Tamoxifen can increase the risk for the development of cataracts.
Men who take tamoxifen for management of their breast cancer may also have similar symptoms as the women in addition to having a lack in sexual interest and impotence.
It is advised that women avoid becoming pregnant when taking tamoxifen because this drug during pregnancy may cause harm to the developing fetus.
The benefits of tamoxifen as a treatment for breast cancer are firmly established and far outweigh the possible risks.
Those of you taking tamoxifen concerned about the risks and benefits of tamoxifen should discuss these concerns with your doctor.
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