By Dr Janey
Tamoxifen (trade name Nolvadex) has been hailed as a ‘wonder drug’ by many physicians (and patients) since its introduction in the 1970′s. It is the most recommended drug for recovering breast cancer patients, and its ‘fans’ will tell you that it produces results.
But at what costs, and is it truly healing those who take it? Anyone currently on Tamoxifen treatment (or considering it) owe it to themselves to become aware of the bigger picture!
Firstly we need to understand a bit about how Tamoxifen works……
Breast cancer is strongly linked to the influence of oestrogen. In other words, a greater exposure to oestrogen over your life-time can increase your risks for developing breast cancer (or your risk of relapsing after treatment). Tamoxifen is a weak oestrogen and is classified as a SERM (selective estrogen receptor modulator). This means it can either selectively block or activate the action of oestrogen depending on where the oestrogen receptors are in the body.
In breast tissue, Tamoxifen acts by competing with oestrogen in the body, displacing it from the receptors and thus blocking its action – hence referred to as an oestrogen-blocker. This is Tamoxifen’s reason for being because oestrogen acts by stimulating replication of cells including cancerous cells. By blocking the action of oestrogen, breast tumours are less likely to develop or progress. In other tissues however, such as the uterus, the heart, bones and liver, Tamoxifen acts differently; rather as an oestrogen agonist- thus promoting oestrogen’s activity.
Sounds clever doesn’t it? In fact it is for this reason that Zeneca, the drug company behind it, promotes it not only as a protectant against breast cancer, but also against osteoporosis in post menopausal women due to the alleged protective effect that oestrogen has on bone density.
Now not all breast tumours have oestrogen receptors, but approximately 2/3 have been found to have these receptors and are thus categorised as oestrogen receptor positive tumours (ER+). Those that do not have the receptors are oestrogen receptor negative (ER-). Tamoxifen therefore, should only be used for ER+ breast tumours for which it can have a protective effect, but not in ER- tumours for which it has no effect.
It is prescribed for premenopausal women, as well as post menopausal women usually as an adjuvant (additional) treatment after receiving other conventional breast cancer treatment (surgery/chemo and/or radiation) in an attempt to prevent a relapse and to help prevent it developing in the other breast. It is also often used in advanced breast cancer when there is already metastasis (spread) to other organs, and more recently has been used in alleged high-risk non breast cancer patients to prevent the onset of breast cancer.
And Tamoxifen has yielded some results as its loyal proponents will tell you. When a trial was done on 10 645 women, the following results were achieved:
- Of the women who took Tamoxifen approximately 26% had a relapse at the 10 year mark, while 40% relapsed after 10 years when not on Tamoxifen
• At the 15 year mark, 33% of women who have taken Tamoxifen relapsed as opposed to 46% who hadn’t
• With regards to death rate, 18% death rate was recorded after 10 years in women who had taken Tamoxifen as opposed to 25% in women who did not
• At 15 years after starting treatment with Tamoxifen 24% of women had died, as opposed to 33% who hadn’t taken the drug
However as is usually the case, there is another side to the story and a bigger picture to consider. Let’s look at the following 4 points…..
- Statistics can lie!While the above statistics as quoted by the ‘fans’ of Tamoxifen reveal a moderate success story, other trials will tell you a different story. (I use the word ‘moderate’ in describing Tamoxifen’s success because to accept that nearly one quarter of all women will be dead within 15 years after treatment with Tamoxifen is probably not a statistic you want to be shouting from the roof tops!)
So how is it possible that different trials could reveal quite different answers?
Firstly, scientific trials are often not as unbiased as we would like to believe; frequently set up in a manner to produce an intended end-result, while the statistics themselves can be manipulated to deliver a particular point of view. The lesson: one should never take any one given set of statistics as gospel! One of the most important factors to consider is who the trial was funded by, and what they were set to gain (or lose) by delivering a particular set of statistics.
(It may be worth mentioning at this stage that Tamoxifen is worth 1/2 billion dollars annually to the pharmaceutical company promoting it, the cancer associations affiliated with the pharmaceutical companies, and finally the doctors who prescribe it!)
When you begin to look at a cross section of trials, a different picture begins to emerge!
Take for example the trial led by Dr Christopher Li at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in 2009 in which it was revealed that the fact of Tamoxifen protecting against breast cancer was only partially correct. It also caused certain other breast cancers! While taking Tamoxifen long-term reduced the incidence by 60% of a 2nd ER+ tumour (a common type that tends to not be aggressive), it simultaneously increased the risks of getting an ER- tumour in the opposite breast by 440%! This ER- tumour is more aggressive, harder to treat and carries a poorer prognosis!
(Note: interestingly and predictably, Dr Li in spite of the concerns which the above-mentioned trial revealed, released this statement; “While the study confirmed a strong association between long-term Tamoxifen therapy and an increased risk of ER- second cancers, it does not suggest that breast cancer survivors should stop taking hormone therapy to prevent a 2nd cancer.” The trial was funded by the National Cancer Institute which has strong ties with the pharmaceutical giants. I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusions.)
Dr Sherrill Sellman also reminds us that almost all women become resistant to Tamoxifen within 5 years. The result is that in time, Tamoxifen rather than protecting the breast tissue from oestrogen, begins to feed it!
Also consider the trial carried out by the University of Michigan in which a thorough personalised analysis was carried out on 632 women in which they were explained the details of the benefits and risks of taking Tamoxifen with regards to their personal family and medical history, age, race etc. Once having a full understanding of Tamoxifen and the benefits and risks that existed for them, alarmingly only 1% of women opted to take the drug!
Not convinced yet? There is more…..
- The side-effects!Proponents of Tamoxifen will tell you that the benefits far outweigh the risks and will often go on to explain that these are usually mild and seldom experienced.
However in my experience with the countless women I have interviewed and consulted with, the chat groups I have viewed, the newsletters I have read, and last but not least the personal family experience I have, the truth would appear to be somewhat different! Women are experiencing many of the listed side-effects, some of which are considered not to be serious, yet still cause considerable loss of quality of life, while others (such as my own mother) experience the more serious side effects!
Below is a list of the less severe (though often very debilitating) side effects:
- Menopausal symptoms (in premenopausal women) such as hot flushes (sometimes frequent and severe)
• irregular menstrual periods
• headaches and fatigue
• nausea and/or vomiting
• vaginal dryness and itching
• weight gain (sometimes significantly)
(note: men also get breast cancer, although it is relatively uncommon. The symptoms they can experience while taking Tamoxifen are nausea and/or vomiting, impotence and decrease in sexual interest, headaches and skin rashes)
And the more serious side effects:
- Eye damage:Approx 6% of women even on the low dose of Tamoxifen report impaired vision due to damage caused to the retina and cornea
- Blood clots: Tamoxifen is highly irritating to the blood vessel walls causing inflammation which can give rise to blood clots with resultant stroke or fatal consequences. Oral contraceptives are known to carry a risk factor that is regarded as significant (1:2000); Tamoxifen’s risk is 30x greater!
- Cancer of the uterus: As you may have noted in the explanation above, Tamoxifen acts by promoting oestrogen activity in the uterus (and you may remember that oestrogen promotes cell replication and therefore cancer). In fact abnormal cells in the uterus have been detected only 1 day after starting treatment on Tamoxifen. In addition, precancerous changes of the endometrium (uterine lining) such as thickenings and polyps were evident in 10% of women on Tamoxifen. As a result, women on the low dose of Tamoxifen face a risk of getting cancer of the uterus that is 2-3x greater than the normal risk after 2 years on the drug. The longer they take it, the higher the risk becomes.
- Liver cancer:Tamoxifen is not only toxic to the liver potentially causing hepatitis, but it has also been referred to as a ‘rip-roaring liver carcinogen’ by Gary Williams- director of the American Heart Foundation. Even Zeneca, the pharmaceutical company that vigorously promotes it has admitted that it is a liver carcinogen. Trials have shown a 6x increase in the incidence of liver cancer in women who have taken Tamoxifen.
Personal note: my own dear mother died not of breast cancer which had been addressed many years before, but from the treatment with Tamoxifen which caused liver cancer!
- Psychological problems:Many women struggle with depression and poor concentration abilities
- Asthma attacks:more likely in those who are sensitive
- Vocal chord changes:causing impairment of singing and speaking abilities
Modern medicine seems to think that it is okay to suffer some drug side-effects if it is all in the good cause of healing from breast cancer, however this is short-sighted! Your body is never meant ‘to feel bad’. Side effects of drugs are a sign of your body warning you that you are doing something to it that is hurting it!
The sensible alternative of course is to address the cause rather than resorting to drugs that provide short-term answers through attempting to suppress the symptoms, while producing a different set of problems in the side effects they produce!
[Note: in spite of the theorised potential protective effects that Tamoxifen promised on osteoporosis and heart health (due to the oestrogenic effects it has on these organs) this has never fully materialised in clinical trials].
- Ignoring the underlying cause!As the conventional medical approach reveals to us time and again, it is very good at identifying and suppressing the symptoms. However this mechanistic approach, while producing ‘quick-fix’ answers, creates long-term problems by failing to address the cause.With Tamoxifen, one may think that blocking the effect of oestrogen is treating the cause because oestrogen has been demonstrated to raise the risk of breast cancer. However, there is a bigger picture to consider!
One needs to delve deeper and ask the important question of why oestrogen – a hormone produced by the body and for the body – should be causing such devastating effects on women only in recent decades when women have produced oestrogen for thousands of years!
The answer to this important question is that women (and men) in modern times are being exposed to significantly greater amounts of oestrogen in the form of Xeno-oestrogens (chemical compounds that act as oestrogen mimickers) in our modern diet and environment.
Therefore to address the issue at its source (ie treat the cause) we need to become aware of these xeno-oestrogens and do all we can to avoid (or significantly reduce) exposure to these oestrogens in our diet and our environment. This is something with a little awareness that we can all achieve! How infinitely more sensible than attempting to block these Xeno- oestrogens with pharmaceutical drugs that have their own side effects, some of them significant!
When you do make diet and life-style changes that reduce your exposure to oestrogen, while also addressing other factors that may have contributed to a toxic and oxygen-deprived terrain, then the results you can experience will far exceed anything that any man-made drug could hope to achieve and without the side effects!
(See the article entitled, ‘The crucial role of oestrogen on breast cancer’ to find out more about the sources of exposure to xeno- oestrogens)
- Treating cancer with a carcinogen!!Yes, you read that right….. Tamoxifen is a carcinogen! I bet your doctor didn’t mention that to you?
It was first recognised in laboratory studies that Tamoxifen acts as a carcinogen because it binds irreversibly to the DNA causing mutation to cancerous cells.
Various institutions have subsequently recognised Tamoxifen as a carcinogen:
- Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) who stated that no amount of Tamoxifen is safe with regards to its carcinogenic effect.
- In California, the Carcinogenic Identification Committee voted unanimously in May 1995 to add Tamoxifen to their list.
- Health Organisation followed in 1996 by officially designating Tamoxifen (along with 70 other chemicals) as a human carcinogen.
- Even the pharmaceutical company, Zeneca, who promote and sell Tamoxifen, has had to confess that it is a liver carcinogen.
As was mentioned in the section on side-effects, Tamoxifen is responsible for increasing the risks of cancer in the uterus and liver. In addition, cancers of the 2nd breast as well as cancer of the gastrointestinal tract have also been associated with Tamoxifen treatment.
You need to ask yourself if you consider it acceptable to try and suppress one cancer with a drug that puts you at risk of developing other cancers, all the while ignoring the safer and more effective route of avoiding the causes! (see article ‘The Crucial Role of Oestrogen on Breast cancer’ for the causes)
Millions of breast cancer patients (and their doctors) the world over cling to this drug like a security blanket in the hope that this little pill will somehow protect them from that which they fear more than anything – having a relapse (or getting breast cancer in the first place in the case where it is used as a preventative).
However this mindset only demonstrates a misunderstanding of what cancer is. We are not helpless victims of cancer that strikes randomly! Cancer develops when the cellular terrain in our body is toxic and oxygen-deprived and each of us has the power to address and reverse this by learning and embracing the protocols and lifestyle that support a vibrantly healthy cellular terrain! (We cover how to achieve this in detail in our ‘7 Step Natural Cancer Program’)
In contrast, to add more toxic chemicals (carcinogens in this instance) to a body that we know is already struggling with a toxic crisis can never achieve true healing from breast cancer, nor peace of mind from relapse! To achieve this we must correct the root cause, which in this instance is reducing our exposure to xeno-oestrogens!