tamoxifen side effects

Tamoxifen is the oldest and most commonly prescribed Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulator (SERM). It has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is one of the most common treatments for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. It is also used post-surgery to reduce the risk of coming back of cancer.

What does it do

It primarily works by blocking or stopping the effects of estrogen in breast tissues. This is because receptor-positive breast cancer feeds on hormones like estrogen and progesterone, to grow. It can be used to treat any stage of breast cancer, to reduce the risk of recurrence post-surgery, or to treat those having a high risk of developing these tissues. Apart from this, it can also be used to reduce the risk of LCIS (cancer developing in lobules/milk glands of the breast) and DCIS (cancer developing in milk ducts of the breast) from spreading and turning into high-grade cancer.

How Effective it is

While each person has a unique body which reacts differently to treatment, Tamoxifen is known to be a beneficial treatment for breast cancer on all fronts. Since its approval, it has been used to treat millions of patients. It is considered as the first choice for treating premenopausal women and is a good alternative for postmenopausal women who cannot take an aromatase inhibitor. Apart from this, it is effective to:

  • Reduce the risk of recurrence of breast cancer by 40-50% in premenopausal women and 30-50% in postmenopausal women.
  • Reduces about 50% of the risk of developing new cancer tissues in the other breast.
  • Shrink the large hormone receptor-positive breast cancers before the surgery.
  • Slow down or stop the growth of advanced breast cancer tissues in both post- and premenopausal women.
  • Lower the risk of breast cancer in women having a higher-than-average risk of developing the cancer tissues.

Duration of the Treatment

As everyone knows, every person has a unique body which reacts differently to treatment. Still, the expected timeline is as follows:

  • It takes 5 to 10 years to treat the primary occurrence.
  • To treat the locally advanced cancer: for as long as it keeps cancer from growing or spreading.
  • Decrease the risk of recurrence of breast cancer for about ten years.
  • Reduce the development of cancer tissue in high-risk individuals: up to 5 years.

Side Effects of Tamoxifen

The selective estrogen activation in this can cause some serious Tamoxifen side effects which include: blood clotting, stroke, and endometrial cancer. Inform your doctor in advance about your health history of blood clots or heart attack and/or if you smoke; before he considers tamoxifen as a part of your treatment plan. Once the treatment has started, observe for the following symptoms:

  • Pain or pressure in the pelvis area
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Swelling or tenderness in legs
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Weakness or numbness in face, legs, or arms
  • Difficulty in understanding or speaking
  • Problem in vision
  • Dizziness
  • Severe headache

The most common side effects are:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Hot flashes
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Hair thinning
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Loss of libido
  • Dry skin

Side effects such as hot flashes and night sweats can be troubling. But studies have suggested that women, who’ve experienced night sweats and hot flashes during the hormonal therapy medicine, were less likely to experience the recurrence of breast cancer. Because of this, people continue to stick with the treatment despite the side effects.

Some women on therapy have also reported memory problems though there are no definite results available about the same.

Is There Insurance Cover

Being a generic medicine, tamoxifen is usually less expensive than other treatments like aromatase inhibitor. If you have health insurance, then check with the insurance company to see if and how much cover you will be getting for the cost of the treatment. If in case you don’t have an insurance or your health insurance plan does not cover the cost of the treatment, then check with the doctor or hospital about the programs which may help you out.

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