Breast cancer medications and vision: effects of treatments for early-stage disease

Curr Eye Res. 2011 Oct;36(10):867-85. doi: 10.3109/02713683.2011.594202. Epub 2011 Aug 5.


This review concerns the effects on vision and the eye of medications prescribed at three phases of treatment for women with early-stage breast cancer (BC): (1) adjuvant cytotoxic chemotherapy, (2) adjuvant endocrine therapy, and (3) symptomatic relief. The most common side effects of cytotoxic chemotherapy are epiphora and ocular surface irritation, which can be caused by any of several different regimens. Most notably, the taxane docetaxel can lead to epiphora by inducing canalicular stenosis. The selective-estrogen-receptor-modulator (SERM) tamoxifen, long the gold-standard adjuvant-endocrine-therapy for women with hormone-receptor-positive BC, increases the risk of posterior subcapsular cataract. Tamoxifen also affects the optic nerve head more often than previously thought, apparently by causing subclinical swelling within the first 2 years of use for women older than ~50 years. Tamoxifen retinopathy is rare, but it can cause foveal cystoid spaces that are revealed with spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (OCT) and that may increase the risk for macular holes. Tamoxifen often alters the perceived color of flashed lights detected via short-wavelength-sensitive (SWS) cone response isolated psychophysically; these altered perceptions may reflect a neural-response sluggishness that becomes evident at ~2 years of use. The aromatase inhibitor (AI) anastrozole affects perception similarly, but in an age-dependent manner suggesting that the change of estrogen activity towards lower levels is more important than the low estrogen activity itself. Based on analysis of OCT retinal thickness data, it is likely that anastrozole increases the tractional force between the vitreous and retina. Consequently, AI users, myopic AI users particularly, might be at increased risk for traction-related vision loss. Because bisphosphonates are sometimes prescribed to redress AI-induced bone loss, clinicians should be aware of their potential to cause scleritis and uveitis occasionally. We conclude by suggesting some avenues for future research into the visual and ocular effects of AIs, particularly as relates to assessment of cognitive function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators / adverse effects*
  • Vision Disorders / chemically induced*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators