Tamoxifen is an antiestrogen medication used with other types of medication to treat the early stages of breast cancer. It works by blocking the effects estrogen has on the human body which prevents and inhibits the growth of certain types of cancer cells in the breast. Tamoxifen has also been used to aid in the treatment of more advanced stages of breast cancer, even when the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. There are times when Tamoxifen will be prescribed for off the label conditions outside of the breast cancer family.
What Are Common Tamoxifen Side Effects?
In a small number of cases (roughly 1%) Tamoxifen side effects have been observed. Many of those side effects have been mild and would not require further medical attention. Although they are unlikely to occur, the more common Tamoxifen side effects include:
- Changes in the flow and duration of a woman’s menstrual cycle
- Cramping or discomfort in the legs
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Hair thinning or hair loss
- Hot flashes (suddenly feeling hot, possibly even sweating)
- Itching in and around the genitals
- Mild nausea or vomiting
- Pain or soreness in the bones
- Skin rash or irritation
- Vaginal discharge
Most of the side effects listed above are experienced infrequently and will not have a negative impact in your overall day to day life. You should still be able to carry on with your regular activities with little interruption. If you find the side effects are hard to manage though, you can speak with your doctor or a pharmacist about possible treatments. Your doctor or pharmacist may be able to offer you advice on non-medicinal options for relief from any especially troublesome side effects as well, reducing the chances of further side effects from another medication.
There are more serious potential Tamoxifen side effects you should be aware of before taking the medication. While these more serious side effects occur less frequently than the more common ones we talked about above, they usually require some sort of medical intervention. These more serious Tamoxifen side effects include:
- Changes in vision including blurred vision
- Indications of anemia including fatigue, labored breathing or a paleness in the skin
- Indications of a lowered white blood cell count including a cough, sore throat or fever
- Pressure or pain in the pelvic region
- Severe nausea or vomiting
- Severe pain in the upper right side of the abdominal region which may indicate swelling in the pancreas
- Skin related symptoms including blistering, peeling or a loosening of the skin
- Unexplained bruising or bleeding
- Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods
- Yellow color in the skin and/or eyes
Because these side effects are considered more serious, it is important to seek medical attention if you begin experiencing them after beginning to take Tamoxifen. Generally speaking though, emergency medical attention is not required for these side effects and an appointment with your family doctor should be enough to offer the treatment you need. That is not the case for the side effects we’re about to discuss though. The side effects on the following list require immediate medical attention. The most severe Tamoxifen side effects include:
- Indications of an allergic reaction including swelling in the face, tongue, throat or lips, hives or labored breathing
- Indications of a blood clot in the lungs including pain in the chest and difficulty breathing normally
- Indications of a stroke including numbness or weakness in the arms and legs that seems to come out of nowhere, difficulties with speech, dizzy spells that hit suddenly and sudden, severe headaches
- Pain, swelling or redness in the calf or leg that may indicate a blood clot
- Swelling or inflammation in the hands, feet or ankles
All of the side effects listed above need to be considered emergencies and immediate, emergency medical care should be sought out. This may mean making a trip to the emergency room but it is absolutely necessary to make sure you seek treatment right away. These side effects are serious and could leave long term damage or potentially put your life in danger. These side effects are extremely rare but should not be ignored.