Tamoxifen-associated eye disease. A review

J Clin Oncol. 1996 Mar;14(3):1018-26. doi: 10.1200/JCO.1996.14.3.1018.


Purpose: The oral antiestrogen tamoxifen has demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer and as adjuvant therapy in early-stage disease. Clinical trials of tamoxifen in chemoprevention of breast cancer among high-risk women have focused attention on potential adverse effects of long-term tamoxifen use, including the possibility of ocular toxicity. This review evaluates the published case reports, clinical series, and clinical trial data on ocular toxicities attributed to tamoxifen. Clinical issues of surveillance, differential diagnosis, and management of tamoxifen-related eye disease are discussed.

Design: National Library of Medicine online bibliographic services were used to identify case reports and clinical studies of ocular adverse effects that occurred in patients receiving tamoxifen published through the fall of 1994. The medical literature relevant to issues raised by the reports and studies was similarly identified and reviewed.

Results: Case reports and case series identify crystalline retinal deposits, macular edema, and corneal changes as potential tamoxifen ocular toxicities. Extensive retinal lesions and macular edema with visual impairment have been reported in a few patients receiving high-dose tamoxifen. Less extensive retinal changes may occur in patients receiving low doses for long periods, and isolated retinal crystals may be observed in patients without visual symptoms.

Conclusion: Ocular toxicity is uncommon in the current clinical setting of long-term, low-dose tamoxifen use. Physicians should be aware of the potential for ocular toxicity among patients receiving the drug and should assure appropriate surveillance and prompt evaluation of visual complaints.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / pharmacokinetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Corneal Diseases / chemically induced
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Estrogen Antagonists / adverse effects*
  • Estrogen Antagonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Eye Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retinal Diseases / chemically induced
  • Tamoxifen / adverse effects*
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacokinetics
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Acuity / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Estrogen Antagonists
  • Tamoxifen