Breast cancer

Updated 08 November 2017

Safe to take antidepressants with tamoxifen

Breast cancer survivors who take antidepressants while on the cancer drug tamoxifen are not at an increased risk for a return of their cancer, a new study finds.

Tamoxifen is widely used to reduce the risk of breast cancer returning. But it can cause unpleasant side effects, including hot flashes and depression. As a result, nearly half of the 2.4 million breast cancer survivors in the United States take antidepressants, the study authors said.

Read: Breast cancer treatment side effects last for years

"Given that thousands of breast cancer survivors struggle with depression, sleep disturbance and other side effects while on tamoxifen, our study should help alleviate any concerns physicians have about prescribing antidepressants to their breast cancer patients to help improve their quality of life," Reina Haque, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, said in a Kaiser news release.

Read: Tamoxifen cuts second cancer risk 

Previous research suggested that antidepressants reduce the effectiveness of tamoxifen, so Haque's team conducted a study to determine if that was true.

The study included nearly 16,900 early stage breast cancer survivors who took tamoxifen for an average of three years. Nearly half of them also took antidepressants.

During a 14-year follow-up, breast cancer returned in more than 17 percent of the women.

Read: Adding Chemo to Tamoxifen Helps Some Breast Cancer Patients

Recurrence rates were similar in women who took antidepressants and those who did not, according to the study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"We found no increased risk of recurrence, and this finding holds up regardless of the type of antidepressant used. This includes paroxetine [Paxil], which had previously been reported to interfere with tamoxifen," Haque said. 

Read more: 

Experts Issue New Guidelines on Breast Cancer Drugs  

Breast cancer vaccine possible 

Decoding breast cancer 


Ask the Expert

Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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