Why I’m taking tamoxifen to avoid breast cancer

My family is no stranger to cancer. In 2005, my mother was diagnosed
with ovarian cancer and in 2006, my older sister
faced a diagnosis of lobular breast cancer

Although both lived in Florida, I insisted they come to Houston to
be treated at MD Anderson. I wanted the
best possible outcome for my precious family, and I felt that MD Anderson was an integral part of that plan.

As a registered nurse and the caregiver for my mother and sister, I
was continually impressed with the medical care they received at MD Anderson, as well as the extraordinary
compassion and attention of the staff members.

Then, in 2006, I became a patient at MD Anderson.

Choosing MD Anderson for breast cancer screening

On a routine visit to MD Anderson with
my sister, I mentioned to her oncologist that I’d noticed an unusual
discharge from my nipple. She advised me to make an appointment
immediately to see Therese Bevers, M.D., in the Cancer Prevention
Center.  When a world-class oncologist makes such a strong
recommendation, I heed their advice. 

My diagnostic testing and evaluation with Dr. Bevers turned out to
be nothing serious. But based on my experiences and the specialized
expertise of the radiologists, I decided to begin getting routine
mammograms at MD Anderson.

In 2012, my mammogram showed an area that necessitated a biopsy.
Fortunately, the biopsy came back normal, but three years later, Dr.
Bevers noted a suspicious area in the opposite breast. A second biopsy
showed abnormal cellular changes, or atypical hyperplasia, but not cancer.

At that point, I began to accept that I had an increased risk for
breast cancer.

Opting to take tamoxifen

The previous year, Dr. Bevers had explained that my family and
personal history placed me at a higher than average risk and discussed
possibly starting a preventive therapy medication, such as tamoxifen,
to reduce that risk. Back then, I hadn’t yet embraced the reality.

After all, I was in great health, led an active lifestyle, was at an
ideal weight, ate a healthy diet and generally did all the right
things to ensure that I would remain healthy for a long time. 

However, the abnormal biopsy made me realize that it was time to get
with the program. I discussed my options for preventive therapy once
again with Dr. Bevers.

She explained that women like me with atypical hyperplasia are more
likely to develop breast cancer, and that increased risk can last for
more than 25-30 years. For women at my level of risk, taking the
hormone therapy drug tamoxifen for five years can reduce that risk by
75%. Better yet, those benefits can last long after I stop taking tamoxifen.

After that, I did my own research and had some long conversations
with a friend that is a breast cancer researcher. I came to understand
that my risk of breast cancer will be lowered significantly by taking
tamoxifen for five years. I feel so fortunate that I have this
opportunity to take active steps to ensure my continued good health.

Life with tamoxifen

In fall 2015, I began taking tamoxifen as a preventive medication
and began  having MRIs as part of my annual breast screening. I’ve
experienced side effects such as hot flashes, but women “of a certain
age” get those anyway! 

My hot flashes and periodic insomnia increased somewhat after I
began the treatment, but I really look at these symptoms as an
inconvenience, not a problem.  My sister is now in the MD Anderson survivorship program and reminds
me that these symptoms are merely the price I must pay for remaining
healthy. I totally agree. 

Having watched my sister undergo breast cancer treatment, I know
I’ve made a sound choice. I’ll gladly take a few hot flashes over the
reality of a full-course breast cancer treatment, including the
potential for a bad outcome.  I feel so grateful to the researchers
for their work developing this and other similar medications, and the
women that participated in the clinical trials.