Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Tamoxifen Era Ends

WebMD Health News

Dec. 10, 2001 -- Tamoxifen no longer rules the roost as the leading hormonal treatment for breast cancer.

Reports from this week's San Antonio Breast Cancer Conference show that a newer type of breast-cancer treatment works better than tamoxifen (Nolvadex). The new drugs also appear to avoid tamoxifen's small but important increased risk of uterine cancer.

"Today we have come to the end of the tamoxifen era," Matthew J. Ellis, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "Now we clearly have tamoxifen replacements that are more effective."

Ellis is clinical director of the breast cancer program at Duke University. He says hormonal therapies have been used to shrink tumors before surgery, to prevent cancer recurrence after surgery and traditional chemotherapy, and to fight advanced breast cancer.

Hormonal treatments for breast cancer work by blocking the tumor-promoting effects of the female sex hormone estrogen. A woman's body keeps on making estrogen even after menopause. Tamoxifen keeps this estrogen from revving up breast cancer cells. The newer drugs, known as aromatase inhibitors or AIs, block the key chemical the body uses to turn other hormones into estrogen. Two of them have received FDA approval: Arimidex and Femara.

One of the most important studies reported at the conference was a huge study of hormonal therapy to prevent breast cancer relapse. This "adjuvant therapy" study enrolled more than 9,000 women from 380 cancer centers in 21 countries. These postmenopausal women -- all of whom had completed first-time surgery and chemotherapy for early breast cancer -- received Arimidex, tamoxifen, or a combination of the two.

After about 31 months of treatment -- with more than 33 months of follow-up -- 10% of the women in the Arimidex group had breast cancer relapse or died. This happened to 12% of the women who got tamoxifen alone or in combination with Arimidex. For women whose tumors were hormone sensitive, Arimidex reduced the risk of relapse by 22%.

"Tamoxifen has been the standard adjuvant therapy for several decades," Lawrence Wickerham, MD, tells WebMD. "Over two-and-a-half years of follow-up, Arimidex shows an advantage."

Wickerham, associate chairman of The National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), was not involved in the study.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow