Searching for Tamoxifen Alternatives?
One of the most searched phrases on the Internet for women fighting breast cancer is “tamoxifen alternatives”.
For those of you who have been prescribed the estrogen blocking drug Tamoxifen because your breast tumor had estrogen receptors on it, one of the first things you undoubtedly did was Google something like “Tamoxifen side effects”. And what you read scared you, with good reason. The list of side effects, as well as women complaining about those side effects, is pretty darned long.
When I was going through breast cancer in 2004, I was prescribed Tamoxifen as well, even though I didn’t have an estrogen-receptor-positive tumor – mine was progesterone-receptor positive (which in itself is odd, nobody knew quite what to do with me). I couldn’t see how blocking my body’s estrogen was going to help that situation and all my doctors could say in response was to mumble something about “well, it may have some therapeutic benefit anyway.” I found that hard to believe, especially after I learned a few things about it – and back in 2004 there was nowhere NEAR the amount of research available, or chat rooms, or online support groups, that we have available to us now. What I did find was pretty distressing, so I refused Tamoxifen. Then I went in search of other, better things I could do to support my health, well-being and ability to stay healthy. I will share some of those things later in this article.
Those Pesky Side Effects
As a breast cancer coach I am in regular contact with women who took Tamoxifen and some of the other inhibitors like Femara, Arimidex, Aromasin and Evista. With the rare exception, everyone complains about the side effects. Apparently only a small percentage of women taking the drug do NOT have any side effects.
What are some of the most common side effects? Here’s a partial list (and inside the parentheses are comments made to me by others taking these drugs): joint pain, muscle pain, bone pain, joint stiffness, feelings of arthritis (“I felt like I was 85 years old on this drug!”), hot flashes (“You could fry an egg on my head!”), leg cramps, vaginal dryness (“It’s a desert down there!”), tiredness, anxiety, depression (“I felt like killing myself”), vision changes, uterine lining abnormalities (“I had to have a hysterectomy.”), insomnia, weight gain, loss of mental acuity (“I couldn’t think straight while taking it.”), hair thinning and, most worryingly, unexplained blood clots.
And we MIGHT be prepared to put up with some of those side effects if the drug actually worked well. I don’t know what the statistics are, but what I am discovering with my clients is that many of the women who took this drug still had recurrences of breast cancer, despite putting up with the side effects and toxicity. I hear this all the time! Now we also are finding out that some women don’t metabolize them well.
What Does the Research Tell Us?
Plenty of studies have been done on Tamoxifen, far too numerous to list here. Several studies have established that there is an increased incidence of endometrial cancer among women taking Tamoxifen , . In 1993, British researchers found that Tamoxifen administered to rats induced liver cancer and several subsequent studies confirmed those findings.  In other animal studies (again there have been many of them) Tamoxifen caused all sorts of reproductive organ cancers including testes, uterine, cervical, and vaginal cancers. In 2000, one researcher found that a key metabolite of Tamoxifen is mutagenic (DNA damaging) when particular conditions for its metabolism are met. Those conditions are discussed at length (if you can wade through the terminology) in the research paper listed at . Notably, this researcher stated: “tamoxifen presents something of a problem in the arena of regulatory testing of pharmaceuticals for genetic toxicity: negative in the battery of short-term tests, but demonstrably genotoxic (and carcinogenic) in vivo.” (In vivo means inside a living body, either animal or human, not just a test tube.)
Of course, there do exist numerous studies which indicate Tamoxifen saves lives. Indeed one recent Lancet study  (funded in part by the pharmaceutial company making the drug) indicated that taking it for up to ten years substantially reduces breast cancer recurrence. We all heard about that not so long ago. However, all is not what it seems. I will point you to my learned friend, Sayer Ji, of GreenMedInfo.com, who has spent some time with the facts and figures on Tamoxifen, which culminated in his 2012 comment on this research: Tamoxifen: Praised As “Life Saving” But Still Causing Cancer.
It’s clear that the medical establishment believes that Lancet study because Tamoxifen continues to be one of the most-prescribed drugs for hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. It irritates me that they remain stubbornly blind to the fact that natural medicine has many wonderful (and side-effect free) ways to stay well that can both help to prevent and also to treat cancer safely.
For those in the natural medicine arena, the bottom line is still what we see out there in the trenches – the terrible side effects from these drugs, the fact that so many women taking it are still having recurrences, and the fact that it is classed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the State of California as a human carcinogen.
So What Should an Empowered Survivor Do?
I can share with you what I did and what I am teaching others to do.
First of all, I disagree that our body’s own estrogen (a hormone we both want and need in our bodies) is causing breast cancer. If that were truly the reason, it seems to me that breast cancer would have been a problem since ancient times and it has only really become the huge problem that it is in recent decades, with the advance of processed foods, chemically-laden body products and cosmetics, environmental toxins and rising stress levels. Breast cancer is a multi-factorial disease and must be addressed on many other levels, not just hormonal. The medical establishment seems to be totally focused on the presence of estrogen receptors on breast cancer tumors. Of course they are there, estrogen plays a huge part in breast health. But complicating the problem is that there are synthetic estrogens in our body products, our drinking water, our cosmetics, our environment — they are coming at us from all directions – and I believe these synthetic estrogens, termed xenoestrogens, are just part of what is making us sick. For more about xenoestrogens, see my articles Protect Yourself From Xenoestrogens and Estrogen Dominance and Unraveling the Mystery of Xenoestrogens and Estrogen Dominance.
So my plan involved, firstly, detoxing my household of chemicals. I got rid of all that crap and began using only natural, organic products. If I couldn’t find them, I made them myself.
I began using some very particular essential oils, massaging them, undiluted, into my breast tissue on a daily basis. See my page Essential Oils for Overall Health and Specific Health Problems for a list of the oils I use.
I had my husband fit a filtration system to the kitchen sink and filtered the drinking water. I also had him install a shower filter.
I began buying only organic produce and when I couldn’t get it organically grown, I either learned how to grow it myself or washed the hell out of it (for things I really wanted/needed) or avoided it completely (I mean who really needs a rutabaga?).
I began working on building up my immune system. Here’s my page on how to do that: 8 Ways To Build a Super Strong Immune System.
I found out which supplements really made a difference in breast cancer and I discovered which foods had real research on them indicating they had anti-cancer activity and began eating those foods. Lots of them! See my page Diet and Cancer.
I got my hormone levels checked periodically. Even though I don’t believe our body’s own estrogen causes breast cancer, it made sense to me to keep an eye on things. When necessary, I use a natural wild yam cream trans-dermally to boost progesterone levels and I take certain supplements that contain wild yam and other things for breast health.
I also got my vitamin D levels checked periodically. When low, I take supplements. See my article: Why Vitamin D is So Important for Breast Health.
I amped up my exercise after reading a study called The Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study . It involved 1,500 women from 1991-2000 who had early stage breast cancer. It found that women who ate plenty of vegetables and fruit every day as well as got regular physical activity were nearly 50 percent less likely to die. So I began getting more regular exercise (in addition to all those lovely plant based foods)!
I learned meditation, because I felt very strongly that a long period of badly managed stress was what undermined my immune system to such a degree that it let cancer in the door. I even created a downloadable how-to-meditate course to help others who don’t have access to meditation classes like I did. Here’s the link: Change Your Life Meditation Course
I learned how to improve my sleep because I found out that bad sleep also undermines the immune system, messes with your hormones and just generally makes you feel crappy. See my page about that: Want To Sleep Better?
I also learned how to do cleanses. A yearly or twice yearly bowel and liver cleanse is one of the best ways to get toxins and xenoestrogens out of your body and keep things running beautifully.
I am still well, healthy and here to tell the story.
 Endometrial Cancer in Tamoxifen-Treated Breast Cancer Patients: Findings From the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) B-14 – http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/86/7/527.abstract?ijkey=f6e51d3ed6a435030236801eb63df2f1c9279a5d&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
 Risk and Prognosis of Endometrial Cancer after Tamoxifen for Breast Cancer. Comprehensive Cancer Centres’ ALERT Group. Assessment of Liver and Endometrial cancer Risk following Tamoxifen – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11036892
 Two-year Carcinogenicity Study of Tamoxifen in Alderley Park Wistar-derived Rats – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8358718
 Understanding the Genotoxicity of Tamoxifen? http://carcin.oxfordjournals.org/content/22/6/839.full#content-block
 Long-term Effects of Continuing Adjuvant Tamoxifen to 10 Years Versus Stopping at 5 Years after Diagnosis of Oestrogen Receptor-positive Breast Cancer: ATLAS, a randomised trial – http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2812%2961963-1/abstract
GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.