Are these side effects of Tamoxifen?

A fellow caregiver asked...

I have a sister who had breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and now she is taking Tamoxifen. Sometimes it's as if she's had a bucket of water dropped on her - her dress is soaked, her face turns pale and she starts to shake with cold like she's freezing. Before, she felt like she was burning up and her face was red. Why is this happening?

Expert Answer

Linda Ackerman, R.N. has clinical experience in oncology, women's health, and medical nursing. She has been practicing for more than 20 years and is a licensed registered nurse in both Florida and Wisconsin. In addition, she serves as a board member of Breast Cancer Recovery and the Wisconsin Cancer Council.

Yes, the symptoms you are describing could be side effects associated with Tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen is a drug, which interferes with the activity of estrogen, a female hormone, and is prescribed to help prevent the original breast cancer from returning and also helps prevent the development of new cancers in the other breast.

--Tamoxifen interferes with estrogen; some of the most common side effects are similar to the symptoms of menopause. The most common side effects are hot flashes (which could range from mild to severe) and vaginal discharge.

--For some women the side effects can be difficult to deal with day to day, I would recommend that your sister talk with her oncologist about some of the medication treatments now available to help decrease the side effects as you described. Because your sister has a history of breast cancer, it is very important that she seek medical advice from her oncologist as some of the treatments available could negatively affect the mechanism of the tamoxifen, which is to interfere with the estrogen.

I have included a few helpful ideas that she could begin to try at any time.

-- Try to stay cool.

-- Keep your bedroom cool at night.

-- Use fans during the day.

-- Wear light layers of clothes with natural fibers such as cotton.

-- Try deep, slow abdominal breathing (six to eight breaths per minute). Practice deep breathing for 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the evening and at the onset of hot flashes.

-- Try to do some sort of exercise daily.

-- Using pillows that are cooler to lay her head on at night might be helpful.