Breast Cancer – The Side-Effects of Tamoxifen

mammogramI have had breast cancer. After the surgery, the chemotherapy and the radiotherapy, I have spent the last 5 years being treated by the drug letrozole to avoid recurrence of the disease. Last month, I had my annual check-up and mammogram and was found to be 5 years cancer free. Result! However, my tumour was HER2+ and therefore my oncologist has advised another 5 years of endocrine teatment with Tamoxifen.

I suffered from almost every side-effect of Letrozole, so it is important to me to be aware of the side effects I may have to endure while taking Tamoxifen. Everybody reacts differently to drugs and some people experience more severe side effects than others, some are really lucky and are not aware of any side effects.

The most common side effects that people have when taking Tamoxifen are much like Tamoxofen packetthe symptoms of the menopause. They include hot flushes, night sweats and sleep disturbance. Other common side effects are vaginal irritation, loss of sex drive and mood changes. Women who have regular periods are likely to find the flow may be lighter, irregular or stop altogether. However, vaginal discharge is common while taking Tamoxifen and so you should be aware of the possibility of infection,.

One of the positive side effects of Tamoxifen for women who are post-menopausal is that this drug is found to slow down the progress of osteoporosis which is thinning of the bones. Conversely, women sho are pre menopausal may be at risk of thinning bones while taking Tamoxifen.

pulmonary embolismThere are other side effects of Tamoxifen that are less common. The drug increase the risk of getting blood clots including deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This can be very serious as people with DVT are at risk of developing a pulomary embolism. Therefore people taking Tamoxifen need to be aware of blood clots and ways of helping to reduce this. Lengthy periods of inactivity can increase the risk of developing bood clots. Those who take long flights, car journeys or train trips need to be aware of the this.

My oncologist also warned me about the fact that Tamoxifen can afftect the lining of the womb and cause it to thicken. In a few cases Tamoxifen can even cause polyps, ovarian cysts or womb cancer. As my family is complete, I have told the doctors that I would look to have a hysterectomy, should that occur.

letrozole-hairA change in hair may also occur. A small number of women may find they notice an increase in downy facial hair and changes to their singing voice. Others find they suffer hair loss or thinning while taking tamoxifen. I suffered hair loss while taking Letrozole, so will be particularly alert for this side effect.

Sight may also change. Make sure to make your regular visits to your optician during treatment.

Tamoxifen can also cause changes to liver function. However, the changes to the liver are usually mild and you may not notice them. At the end f your Tamoxifen treatment your liver will probably return to normal.

Amongst the other side effects are joint pain, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, letrozole-fluidheadaches and leg cramps at nght. Some women also suffer weight increase.

My oncologist has told me that Tamoxifen usually only results in mild side effects. However, I encountered many of the side effects with Letrozole and fear Tamoxifen may be the same. They cause me distress, pain and make me self conscious. However, if Tamoxifen keeps the dreaded breast cancer at bay, I will take the tablets and live.

Valerie Penny

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