Tamoxifen. A reappraisal of its pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties, and therapeutic use

Drugs. 1989 Apr;37(4):451-90. doi: 10.2165/00003495-198937040-00004.


Tamoxifen, a non-steroidal antioestrogen, represents a significant advance in treatment of female breast cancer. In trials of tamoxifen as postsurgical adjuvant treatment of early breast cancer, disease-free survival is consistently prolonged, representing an enhanced quality of life in association with tamoxifen's favourable adverse effect profile. Moreover, overview analysis indicates a survival benefit of approximately 20% at 5 years for all women, most clearly evident in women over 50 years, while a survival benefit independent of menopausal, nodal or oestrogen receptor status has been demonstrated in some individual trials. Thus, for postmenopausal women, tamoxifen is clearly optimal adjuvant treatment, although the relative benefit of adjuvant chemotherapy in node-negative patients requires clarification. A survival benefit for women under 50 has not been clearly demonstrated in overview analysis, but is not precluded by these rather limited data, and adjuvant treatment of premenopausal women with tamoxifen may also warrant serious consideration. Response rates to tamoxifen in advanced breast cancer are around 30 to 35%, increasing with patient selection for oestrogen receptor positivity. Tamoxifen must be regarded as first-line endocrine treatment in postmenopausal women, and may represent an alternative to first-line ovarian ablation in premenopausal women. An emergent role in primary therapy of elderly and frail patients with operable disease is apparent. Tamoxifen is also of benefit following surgery in male breast cancer, and may have a role as first-line endocrine treatment. Tamoxifen also has a potential role in other hormone-sensitive malignancies such as pancreatic carcinoma, and in treatment of benign breast disease. Finally, tamoxifen has a place in treatment of male and female infertility. because of adverse effects is rarely necessary. The most frequent adverse effects are related to the drug's anti-oestrogenic activity, and include hot flushes, nausea and/or vomiting, vaginal bleeding or discharge, and menstrual disturbances in premenopausal patients. Thus, tamoxifen continues to play a major role in management of female breast cancer in both early and advanced stages of disease, with a place also in treatment of male breast cancer and of infertility.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacokinetics
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology*
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use


  • Tamoxifen