Tamoxifen side effects: Why does it suck?

Last updated on May 1st, 2023 at 01:01 am

Woman fanning herself having a hot flash due to tamoxifen side effects.

Breast cancer is a common disease that affects many women around the world. Whether its because docs are better at finding it or because our lifestyles and diets are increasing the likelihood of getting it, many women will get breast cancer in their lives. I did, and I had ZERO family history of it, zero. In my other posts I explain some of my journey with breast cancer, but this post is going to focus on the big, nasty T-word. TAMOXIFEN. And more importantly, tamoxifen side effects and how to deal.

We take Tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer from coming back. While tamoxifen is effective in preventing cancer recurrence, it can also cause side effects that can be difficult to manage. In this post, we will discuss what tamoxifen is, why it is used, the side effects it can cause, and how to manage them.

What is Tamoxifen and Why is it Used?

Tamoxifen is a medication used to treat hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Hormone receptor-positive breast cancer is a type of cancer that grows in response to the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Tamoxifen works by blocking the estrogen receptors on the cancer cells, which stops the growth and spread of the cancer. Tamoxifen is used to prevent breast cancer from returning in women who have been treated for the disease.

Side Effects of Tamoxifen

While tamoxifen is effective in treating breast cancer, it can also cause side effects. Some common side effects include:

  1. Hot flashes: Tamoxifen can cause hot flashes and night sweats, which can be uncomfortable and disruptive to sleep.
  2. Vaginal dryness: Tamoxifen can cause vaginal dryness and discomfort during intercourse.
  3. Mood changes: Tamoxifen can cause mood swings, depression, and anxiety in some women.
  4. Fatigue: Tamoxifen can cause fatigue and a general feeling of malaise.
  5. Weight gain: Tamoxifen can cause weight gain and fluid retention.
  6. Blood clots: Tamoxifen can increase the risk of blood clots, which can be a serious and potentially life-threatening side effect.
  7. Bone loss: Tamoxifen can cause bone loss, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

Manage Side Effects of Tamoxifen

Managing the side effects of tamoxifen can be challenging, but there are several strategies that can help:

  1. Hot flashes: Dress in layers, use a fan, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods.
  2. Vaginal dryness: Use a water-based lubricant during intercourse and talk to your doctor about using vaginal moisturizers or estrogen creams.
  3. Mood changes: Seek support from a therapist or counselor, practice stress-reducing techniques like yoga or deep breathing.
  4. Fatigue: Get enough rest and exercise regularly. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  5. Weight gain: Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. Avoid sugary and processed foods, and focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods.
  6. Blood clots: Talk to your doctor about your risk for blood clots and any precautions you can take to reduce your risk. If you experience any symptoms of a blood clot, such as swelling or pain in your legs, chest pain, or difficulty breathing, get thee to the ER.
  7. Bone loss: Some women experience bone density loss with Tamoxifen. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to maintain bone health, such as taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. Other ways to help are getting regular exercise through strength-focused training. It probably goes without saying, since these things seem to make everything worse, but avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with tamoxifen will be different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing the side effects. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have, and work together to develop a plan that works best for you.

What Natural Treatments Can Help with Tamoxifen Side Effects?

In addition to these strategies, there are also alternative therapies that may help to manage the side effects of tamoxifen. Some women find that acupuncture, massage therapy, or herbal supplements can be helpful in reducing hot flashes, fatigue, and other side effects. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor before trying any alternative therapies, as they may interact with other medications or have their own side effects.

Breast Cancer Recurrence and Tamoxifen

Breast cancer can come back even after treatment. This is called cancer recurrence. Hormone receptor-positive breast cancer is the most common type of breast cancer. It is characterized by the presence of receptors for estrogen and/or progesterone on the surface of cancer cells. These receptors allow the cancer cells to grow and multiply in response to the hormones in the body. Hormone receptor-positive breast cancer can be treated with medications that target the hormones that feed the cancer cells, such as tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen is effective in preventing cancer recurrence in women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Studies have shown that tamoxifen can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence by up to 50%. Tamoxifen is typically prescribed for five years after initial breast cancer treatment.

Keep Taking It

It’s important to take tamoxifen exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Taking tamoxifen as directed can help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and improve survival rates. It’s also important to continue taking tamoxifen for the entire prescribed period, even if you experience side effects. If you have concerns about the side effects of tamoxifen or are having trouble taking the medication as prescribed, talk to your doctor. They may be able to adjust your dosage or recommend strategies for managing the side effects.

Tamoxifen is an effective therapy for preventing breast cancer recurrence in women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. While tamoxifen can cause yucky side effects, there are ways to minimize their impact. By working with your doctor and taking steps to care for your physical and emotional health, you can navigate the challenges of cancer treatment and recovery with grace and resilience. Remember, if you have any concerns or questions about tamoxifen or its side effects, talk to your doctor. They are there to help and support you on your journey to recovery.

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