Sunday, February 24, 2013

I should be happy about this, right?

 A few months ago a "groundbreaking" new breast cancer treatment study was published and presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposioum, where the latest and greatest breast cancer information is shared.

What was the study?  It is called the Atlas Study which stands for Adjuvant Tamoxifen, Longer Against Shorter study.

What were the results?  10 years of Tamoxifen is more effective than the traditionally prescribed  five years.

Mainstream media quickly picked up this story as a promising new treatment for women with Estrogen Receptor Positive Breast cancer (that's me).  Headlines Read: "Longer Use of Tamoxifen Cuts Deaths" and "Extending Tamoxifen Saves Lives".

Here are links to some of the stories:

I should be psyched, right?  This is great news!  According to the study, five additional years of Tamoxifen-on top of the traditionally prescribed five years, which research shows reduces risk of breast cancer recurrence by 50%-will additionally reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence by another 25%.   For example, if a person has a 50% risk of recurrence, taking Tamoxifen for five years will reduce this to 25% risk of recurrence.  The new research shows taking Tamoxifen for an additional five years, ten years total, will reduce this to 18.75% risk of recurrence.

Despite this, upon hearing the news, my initial response was:  CRAP!  Don't get me wrong, I am happily taking Tamoxifen right now to reduce my risk of recurrence-I want that 50% reduction real bad!- but I have been counting down the days until I am done with Tamoxifen and an additional five years seems, well, unfathomable.  I was not alone in my thoughts as this seemed to be the consensus with my young breast cancer posse.  Why weren't we more excited?  Well, Tamoxifen comes with some unpleasant side-effects, especially for young, pre-menopausal women.  Some mild and some not so mild.  A simple google search of Tamoxifen shows some of the less severe but crazily annoying side effects as being:  hot flashes, irregular menstrual cycles, bone pain, joint pain, weight gain, fatigue, swelling in hands/feet, vaginal itching/dryness, headaches, dizziness, depression, and thinning hair.  Some of the more severe side effects being: endometrial cancer, blood clots, stroke, and cataracts.  And while the conclusion of the ATLAS study was that the benefits outweigh the risks, this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

While most of the media reports stated the facts of the study accurately, the implications of extended Tamoxifen use, especially for young women, was not discussed.  Despite there being dozens and dozens of stories reporting the new study, I only found one, from the Young Survivor Coalition, that helps explain my "Oh CRAP" response.

It is a fine line between preventing a recurrence and over-treating breast cancer  causing other often life threatening or debilitating conditions.  I am not sure the answer, but I do know that I have 3 1/2 years to make a decision on extending my use of Tamoxifen.  In the meantime, as I continue to countdown the days until I am done taking Tamoxifen, I can only hope for better, more effective, and less debilitating treatments in the future.

On another note, check out my sweet ponytail!  I chopped my hair off almost two years ago and then proceeded to lose it all during chemo.  That is a long time for me to go without a ponytail.  Hair!  Long (well relatively speaking), glorious, beautiful, hair....that fits in a ponytail.  Yippee!


  1. So if you spend your life doing something you don't want to do, is that really living? Or stated another way: if you spend your life not doing what you want to be doing, is that really living?

    This is a lesson that really extends way beyond just a drug treatment.

  2. I am really not sure if I am going to take the 10 years. It hasn't been presented to me yet, but I am just not sure I can do 10 years. AGGHHH!!!! I guess, like you, I have many years to decide!

  3. Hi, somehow stumbled upon this blog but it's a great read. I work in the bike "biz" and raced mtb endurance and cx for several years until i got a colo-rectal cancer diagnosis last December. It's encouraging to read about your experience and gives me some encouragement with my own. Good look racing this summer! Cheers