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Expert Q&A

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Does tamoxifen affect the patient's weight?

Asked by David Ouellette, St. Augustine, Florida

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How does tamoxifen affect weight? Can one expect weight loss after the prescription is over? Thanks.

Expert Bio Picture

Conditions Expert Dr. Otis Brawley Chief Medical Officer,
American Cancer Society

Expert answer

Tamoxifen is an oral anti-estrogen used to treat women with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. It is taken once daily and blocks the estrogen receptor on cancer and normal cells. It prevents estrogen synthesized from the ovary, adrenal or fat tissue form stimulating the cancer to grow. It is given to women who have no evidence of disease after surgery but may have residual disease that is too small to see. It is also given to select women with active disease spread throughout the body (metastatic disease). Tamoxifen and similar compounds, the aromatase inhibitors, are used to prevent relapse or keep metastatic disease from growing.

When given as adjuvant therapy, meaning to prevent cancer from returning, these drugs are given for five and occasionally up to seven years. About 10 percent of women taking these drugs report unexpected weight gain. Most women report that it is easier to lose weight after stopping tamoxifen, but it is still a challenge. For those taking these drugs and those who just stopped I recommend a diet high in protein and with five to nine servings of fruit or vegetables per day. If you are able, do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times per week. Aerobic exercise includes activity in which you are winded but not short of breath such that you cannot keep up a conversation.

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