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:
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!