Over the years, millions of women—including yours truly—have
taken a hormonal therapy known as tamoxifen
to prevent a recurrence of their breast cancer. And, over this same period, many
of us have raised a question: What, if
anything, is tamoxifen doing to my brain?
Tamoxifen is a wonder drug for certain: Taken correctly, it
prevents recurrence in about half the women on it. Its side effects, however,
are so dreadful that quite a few women stop taking it before it’s worked its
In fact, we cancer survivors know all about a drug that
jumbles up our brain function: For a long time, we’ve noticed that chemotherapy drugs can cause something
we call chemo brain—a very real sense
of not being able to remember things, or of feeling like our ability to concentrate
is somehow “off.” We’ve often wondered if tamoxifen could possibly be burdening
us in the same way.
Well, a recent study from the University of Rochester
Medical Center, published in the Journal
of Neurosciences, has at last confirmed that tamoxifen does indeed cause the
women on it to experience a “mental fog.”
So please, ladies! If you are on tamoxifen, read on and
finish this blog. Hang in there and do not
stop taking it!
A pair of discoveries
Besides validating our suspicious about tamoxifen’s effects
on our minds, the researchers in Rochester made
asecond discovery: In animal
experiments, they have established that a substance known as AZD6244 counteracts
the awful side effects of tamoxifen, and can even rescue brain cells from the
damage the drug can do.
That’s right—these scientists have proved, at least in mice,
that AZD6244 essentially eliminates the tamoxifen-induced killing of brain
cells. Of course, the hope now is that their experiments will also show that AZD6244
can achieve the same result in the human brain.
So what to do?
of all, keep up-to-date regarding the research in this area.
do not stop taking tamoxifen without your doctor’s permission.
know that our troubles with concentration and the cloudy thinking associated with
tamoxifen are short term. (Though I do know a few women who have used their
“mental fog” as their excuse for more than 30 years!)
always remember that tamoxifen, even though its grim side effects can make our
lives miserable at times, prevents breast cancer from recurring in almost 50
percent of women taking it—and that a cure for its side effects may be
around the corner!