[Tamoxifen and breast cancer]

Harefuah. 2002 Aug;141(8):718-20, 761, 760.
[Article in Hebrew]


Tamoxifen is a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) with pro- and anti-estrogenic properties. Currently it is the most widely used agent for first line treatment against hormone sensitive metastatic breast cancer and the only approved hormonal agent for adjuvant treatment of organ confined breast cancer. Furthermore, its uses have been extended for the treatment of intraductal breast carcinoma patients. In such settings the most worrisome side effect of tamoxifen is its ability to increase the rates of uterine cancers. It has been claimed that most of these cancers are found at an early stage because of vaginal bleeding. Moreover, it has been shown that for most women transvaginal ultrasound is an ineffective screening method for the early detection of uterine carcinomas. It is important, however, to notice that long term tamoxifen treatment can cause metastatic uterine cancer--not only carcinomas but also sarcomas (mainly malignant mixed mesodermal tumors. It should be noted that, at least for the special population of BRCA mutation carriers, transvaginal ultrasound can increase our ability for the earlier discovery of ovarian cancer. Thus, we believe that there is still a place for the use of transvaginal ultrasound in special populations. This is specifically for long term tamoxifen users (more than the usually recommended five years), women with a higher chance of having uterine carcinomas (namely very high body weight, strong family history) and women with a high index of suspicion as carriers of a BRCA mutation. Until new second generation SERMs and aromatase inhibitors are shown to possess better anti-cancer abilities than tamoxifen, this drug will remain in wide use, however, we must not overlook its possible rare side effects.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators / adverse effects
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators / therapeutic use*
  • Tamoxifen / adverse effects
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use*
  • Uterine Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Uterine Neoplasms / epidemiology


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators
  • Tamoxifen