The effects of tamoxifen on immunity

Curr Med Chem. 2009;16(24):3076-80. doi: 10.2174/092986709788803042.


Tamoxifen is a widely known anti-estrogen which has been employed in adjuvant treatment of early-stage, estrogen-sensitive breast cancer for over 20 years. Less well known are the effects of tamoxifen on immune function, which we discuss here. We review the growing body of evidence which demonstrates immunomodulatory effects of tamoxifen, including in vitro and in vivo studies as well as observations made in breast cancer patients treated with tamoxifen. Taken together these studies suggest that tamoxifen is capable of inducing a shift from cellular (T-helper 1) to humoral (T-helper 2) immunity. Interestingly, the immunomodulatory effects of tamoxifen appear to be independent of the estrogen-receptor and may be mediated through the multidrug resistance gene product, Permeability-glycoprotein, for which a role in immunity has recently emerged. We furthermore discuss the clinical implications of the immunomodulatory effects of tamoxifen which are twofold. First, tamoxifen may be useful in the treatment of immune-mediated disorders, particularly of those arising from aberrant T-helper 1 cell activity, including allograft rejection, Crohn's disease, and Th1-mediated autoimmune conditions such as diabetes mellitus, scleroderma, and multiple sclerosis. Second, given that cellular T-helper 1 immunity is targeted against cancer cells, the tamoxifen-induced shift away from cellular immunity represents a significant step in fostering a cancerogenic environment. This may limit the anti-cancer effects of tamoxifen and thus explain why tamoxifen is inferior compared to other anti-estrogens in preventing disease recurrence in early-stage breast tumors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Estrogen Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology*


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • Estrogen Antagonists
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Tamoxifen