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MagazineMay 1990 (Vol. 1 Issue 2)Tamoxifen:

The drug company giveth, and it taketh away, too

The drug company giveth, and it taketh away, too. The thought came to mind after we looked at the success of the drug tamoxifen in fighting - and preventing - breast cancer. Unfortunately it's likely to give you endometrial cancer instead.
But it has also been suspected of causing other unfortunate side effects, too, such as the liver disease known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). As its name suggests, NASH looks like a drinker's disease, but it's found among people who drink only moderately or rarely. Cirrhosis of the liver is the end result for drinkers and non-drinkers alike.
Doctors know that NASH is much more likely among obese people, but researchers have also been suspecting that tamoxifen could also be playing a part. To find out, a research team monitored the health of 5,408 healthy women who had undergone a hysterectomy. They were either given 20 mg tamoxifen daily for five years or a placebo.
After five years, 64 women in the tamoxifen group had developed NASH and, of these, 12 also had hepatitis C. Co-factors that increased the risk included obesity and hypertension.
The one piece of good news - if you can see it that way - is that tamoxifen seems to do its worst within the first two years. If you can survive that long, it's unlikely you'll get NASH in the rest of the time you're on the drug. Endometrial cancer might be another matter, of course.


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