FIRST PERSON | Results from a recent study called ATLAS (adjuvant tamoxifen longer against shorter) show that 10 years of tamoxifen therapy is better than the current treatment of five years. The findings will be presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium this week. A major drug manufacturer is one of the study's sponsors.
Study is suspect
I find it interesting that one of the sponsors of the ATLAS study is drug manufacturer AstraZeneca. The company currently markets and manufactures Nolvadex, a brand-name version of the drug tamoxifen. Current guidelines for tamoxifen recommend that patients take the drug for five years. By doubling the number of years women take tamoxifen, AstraZeneca stands to make a lot more money. This fact makes me question the validity and objectivity of the research.
The ATLAS study suggests that taking tamoxifen for 10 years greatly increases a woman's survival rate from estrogen-positive breast cancers. However, there was no difference in deaths or recurrences of breast cancer during the second five-year period. The increase in survival rates comes after women stop taking the drug. Trevor J. Powles of the Cancer Center in London told the New York Times that the benefits of tamoxifen far outweigh any side effects -- I disagree.
Why I won't take tamoxifen
Let me explain my situation. I have stage 2, estrogen-positive breast cancer. My oncologist recommended that I take tamoxifen for five years -- I refused. This is why a study like ATLAS is so important to me.
I completely disagree with Trevor J. Powles' statement about benefits outweighing the risks. Tamoxifen comes with some pretty serious side effects, including endometrial cancers, pulmonary embolisms, cataracts, increase in blood cholesterol, and bad interactions with many common drugs, including benedryl. The rate for endometrial cancers doubles in the second five years of taking the drug, to almost 4 percent.
Tamoxifen's side effects are definitely something to consider before recommending that treatment be extended by an additional five years. In addition to serious side effects, 40 percent of the women taking tamoxifen in the ATLAS study stopped prior to completing the trials because of side effects.
Tamoxifen causes menopausal symptoms like night sweats, hot flashes and vaginal dryness. While not life threatening, these symptoms have a direct impact on quality of life. Bone pain is another side effect.
Tamoxifen does not work for approximately 1/3 of the women who take it. ATLAS does not address this issue.
Is ATLAS a study that truly looks to benefit women battling breast cancer or is it a way for a drug manufacturer to line their pockets? When you look at all the information, it seems like the latter is true. Apparently, AstraZeneca would rather increase their bottom line instead of increasing a breast cancer patient's quality of life.
Lynda Altman was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011. She writes a series for Yahoo! Shine called "My Battle With Breast Cancer."