Predicting adherence to tamoxifen for breast cancer adjuvant therapy and prevention

Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2011 Sep;4(9):1360-5. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-11-0380.


Treatment with the selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) tamoxifen for 5 years has produced dramatic breast cancer-related benefits in (a) the adjuvant setting, with 30% to 50% reductions in recurrence, contralateral disease, and mortality and (b) the prevention setting of healthy high-risk women, where tamoxifen reduces the risk of invasive and noninvasive breast cancer by 50%. Despite these striking data, adherence to tamoxifen is low, and low adherence is associated with poor survival. Although toxicity is a major predictor of poor adherence after starting therapy, pretreatment (baseline) predictors of poor tamoxifen adherence have been minimally studied. The adherence-survival link underscores the critical need to identify early predictors of poor adherence, and recent work is beginning to address this need. A major baseline predictor of poor adherence to prevention is current smoking, which is interestingly absent from studies of adherence to adjuvant therapy. Other important prevention adherence factors include breast cancer risk, extremes of age, non-white ethnicity, low socioeconomic status, and alcohol use. The strongest adjuvant therapy predictors are age (especially very young), ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Future studies involving prospective systematic evaluation of these and other potential predictors in endocrine chemoprevention (e.g., other SERMs and aromatase inhibitors) are critical, as is the development of effective/targeted interventions to improve adherence and thus treatment outcomes in at-risk women.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology / methods*
  • Medication Adherence*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Risk
  • Smoking
  • Social Class
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use*


  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Tamoxifen