Sherrill Sellman, ND
There has been much ado in the press recently about the wonders of the drug tamoxifen. It has been heralded as a major breakthrough in the treatment of breast cancer.
There has been much ado in the press recently about the wonders of the drug tamoxifen. It has been heralded as a major breakthrough in the treatment of breast cancer. Tamoxifen is now the number one recommended drug treatment for women recovering from breast cancer. With half a billion dollars (US) in annual revenues, it is currently used by more women with breast cancer than any other prescription drug.
But as is the case with all pharmaceutical drugs, there are serious dangers which seem to be conveniently glossed over. Far from the saviour of women’s lives, tamoxifen has lethal side effects.
Despite tamoxifen’s supposed ability to reduce recurrence of breast cancer in postmenopausal women, major studies have shown that tamoxifen only marginally reduces mortality rates. The majority of women who take tamoxifen live no longer than women who refuse it. It is with great alarm that researchers are finding that some breast cancers actually learn how to use tamoxifen to stimulate their growth.
Tamoxifen’s Dark Side
While the initial findings of tamoxifen’s role in breast cancer treatment seemed so promising, further research presented grave concerns for its widespread use. In fact, the Physicians Desk Reference lists 25 adverse reactions to tamoxifen. Some can be fatal.
Tamoxifen often induces menopausal symptoms in young women. About half of the women experience hot flashes, fluid retention, weight gain, vaginal discharge and vaginal atrophy. Studies also find accelerated bone mineral loss, osteoporosis, menstrual irregularities and permanent absence of menstrual cycles in premenopausal women. Other side effects include damaged retinas, increased corneal opacities, cataracts and decreased visual acuity.
Tamoxifen causes strokes and blood clots. The constant irritation and inflammation weakens the veins, causing bleeding, clotting, thrombophlebitis and obstruction of the blood vessels serving the lungs. The risk of developing life-threatening blood clots increased as much as seven times in some women taking tamoxifen.
Other reported problems include depression and lack of concentration, asthma attacks and changes to the vocal cords.
A Known Carcinogen
It wasn’t long before laboratory studies showed that tamoxifen actually acted as a carcinogen. No amount of tamoxifen is safe when it comes to carcinogenic effects. In 1996 the World Health Organization formally designated tamoxifen as a human carcinogen, grouping it with 70 other chemicals.
Tamoxifen is toxic to the liver and can cause acute hepatitis. The latest human studies show a six-fold increase in liver cancer among women taking tamoxifen for more than two years. Liver failure and tamoxifen-induced hepatitis, although rare, have been reported. While the manufacturer of tamoxifen admits that it is a liver carcinogen, it still continues to aggressively promote its use.
Uterine growths such as polyps, tumors, endometrial thickenings and cancers are stimulated by tamoxifen. One study detected abnormal endometrial cells in subjects the day after the first tablet was taken! In another study, precancerous uterine changes were seen in 10 per cent of the women taking tamoxifen. The higher the dose and the longer it is taken, the greater the risk becomes. Women taking the standard dose for two years run a risk of uterine cancer that is two to three times greater than normal. After five years the risk is six to eight times greater.
A review composed of scientists from various countries concluded "that there is sufficient evidence to regard tamoxifen as a human carcinogen that increases a woman’s risk of developing...cancer of the endometrium, the inner lining of the uterus." It was known that breast cancer patients who take tamoxifen for five years or longer could triple the risk of uterine cancer. Many researchers said that "it’s no big deal," since endometrial cancer caught early rarely results in death. However, that statement infuriated critics who noted that the treatment for uterine cancer is an hysterectomy. It is now known that breast cancer patients who develop uterine cancer while using tamoxifen are likely to develop a fast moving, lethal form of the disease.
The premise for taking tamoxifen is its supposed role in protecting patients from a recurrence of breast cancer. However, the benefits of tamoxifen are limited. Virtually all women who take it become resistant within five years. It was postulated that it prevented breast cancer from occurring in the opposite breast, known as contralateral cancer. However, disturbing findings continue to surface challenging tamoxifen’s effectiveness. In 1992 the New England Journal of Medicine showed that tamoxifen may reduce the incidence of contralateral cancer but only in premenopausal women and only in three of eight trials. In another 1992 study, tamoxifen not only failed to reduce contralateral cancers in premenopausal women, it actually increased the incidence.
The shocking truth about tamoxifen’s effect on breast cancer appeared in a recent study published in the journal Science in July 1999.
Researchers acknowledged that tamoxifen eventually loses its effectiveness and then may actually help some cancers to grow. Their clinical experience revealed that after only two to five years, it stimulated estrogen-sensitive cancers of breast and uterine cancers!
Alternatives to Tamoxifen
While the cancer establishment continues to invest huge amounts of money into research, manufacturing and trials of harmful drugs for the prevention and hopeful cure of breast cancer, safe and effective options already exist.
There is convincing evidence that natural progesterone has an important role in breast cancer treatment and prevention. A study in 1981 revealed that when a group with low progesterone was compared with a normal progesterone group, the incidence of breast cancer in the low progesterone group was over 80 per cent greater than in the normal progesterone group.
In 1995 researchers found that women using a topical progesterone cream had dramatically reduced cell multiplication rates of breast cell growth compared to women using either a placebo or estrogen, demonstrating that natural progesterone creams impressively decreased breast cell proliferation rates.
Lifestyle factors also play a significant role. Women who exercised at least four hours a week were found to have a 37 percent reduction in risk of breast cancer compared with sedentary women.
Since it is now known that reducing caloric intake reduces estrogen levels. recent studies find 46 percent less breast cancer among women consuming more fruit and vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts. Eating organic foods, which eliminates carcinogenic pesticides, is essential.
History continues to repeat itself. Time and time again, women have been reassured that the wonder drugs or treatments offered them would be their salvation, only to discover they were knowingly exposed to harmful carcinogenic chemicals. The warnings were drowned out by the glossy advertising campaigns and the reassurances of "medical experts."
There are solutions to the breast cancer epidemic. However, they will be found more by altering lifestyle, dietary, nutritional and stress factors and reducing exposure to the many known toxic, carcinogenic environmental pollutants then by some miraculous drug discovery. It is widely believed that today’s drugs are tomorrow’s poisons. In the case of tamoxifen, tomorrow has already arrived.