Did you know that breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women?
182,000 cases were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2008, with 41,000 deaths. It can be treated in a variety of ways, depending upon the type of tumor and the stage of the disease. Treatment options include radiotherapy or chemotherapy, surgeries on the breast, antibody therapy to target proteins in the body that allow cancer cells to grow and hormone therapies.
In post-menopausal women, drugs known as aromatase inhibitors can be used. These stop the production of estrogen and may be helpful in estrogen-dependent cancers.
Tamoxifen is a hormone drug that inhibits estrogen-dependent breast cancer. It is also used to stop cancer spreading and sometimes offered to women who don’t have cancer but who have a strong family history of it. Women are usually asked to take it for five years after their treatment to try to prevent a recurrence of cancer. It is thought to help 50 percent of women who take it.
However, it can cause some side-effects, including fatigue, mood swings, an abnormal amount of vaginal discharge and hot flashes. More serious side-effects include blood clots and cancer of the lining of the womb.
To counteract the effects of hot flashes, some women also take antidepressants, which have been shown to suppress these.
A study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology found that antidepressants may stop the effects of Tamoxifen and cause a woman’s cancer to return.
Researchers studied the medical records of 945 women who were taking Tamoxifen and 353 women who were taking Tamoxifen and an antidepressant. They found that cancer reoccurred in 7 percent of the women who were taking Tamoxifen alone and in 14 percent of those women who were taking it with an antidepressant.
Antidepressants are known to lower the amount of Tamoxifen in the bloodstream and could possibly account for the higher rates of cancer regression in that group. Drug brands which were particularly problematic were Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft, but other brands did not have the same adverse effect.
So if you are taking Tamoxifen, try a different antidepressant or try another way to relieve hot flashes. An electric fan or a cool shower are two ideas to ease symptoms without compromising your choice of treatment.
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/.
She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.