A randomized clinical trial evaluating tamoxifen in the treatment of patients with node-negative breast cancer who have estrogen-receptor-positive tumors

N Engl J Med. 1989 Feb 23;320(8):479-84. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198902233200802.


We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of postoperative therapy with tamoxifen (10 mg twice a day) in 2644 patients with breast cancer, histologically negative axillary nodes, and estrogen-receptor-positive (greater than or equal to 10 fmol) tumors. No survival advantage was observed during four years of follow-up (92 percent for placebo vs. 93 percent for tamoxifen; P = 0.3). There was a significant prolongation of disease-free survival among women treated with tamoxifen, as compared with those receiving placebo (83 percent vs. 77 percent; P less than 0.00001). This advantage was observed in both the patients less than or equal to 49 years old (P = 0.0005) and those greater than or equal to 50 (P = 0.0008), particularly in the former, among whom the rate of treatment failure was reduced by 44 percent. Multivariate analysis indicated that all subgroups of patients benefited. Tamoxifen significantly reduced the rate of treatment failure at local and distant sites, tumors in the opposite breast, and the incidence of tumor recurrence after lumpectomy and breast irradiation. The benefit was attained with a low incidence of clinically appreciable toxic effects. The magnitude of the improvement obtained does not preclude the need for future trials in which patients given tamoxifen could serve as the control group in an evaluation of potentially better therapies. Tamoxifen treatment is justified in patients who meet the eligibility criteria of the present study and who refuse to participate in those trials. Since patients with tumors too small for conventional analysis of estrogen-receptor and progesterone-receptor concentrations were not eligible for this study, no information is available to indicate that such patients should receive tamoxifen.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Postoperative Care
  • Random Allocation
  • Receptors, Estrogen / analysis*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / analysis
  • Tamoxifen / adverse effects
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use*


  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • Tamoxifen