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Tamoxifen doesn't increase risk of depression

©Washington Post
December 11, 2001

THE QUESTION: Does tamoxifen, used by many women to treat or reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, lead to depression?

PAST STUDIES have raised concern about the anti-estrogenic activity of tamoxifen and its possible negative effect on mood.

THIS STUDY compared the depression rates of 11,064 women -- predominantly white, well-educated and employed -- who were participating in a breast cancer prevention trial. After being classified into three depression risk groups -- based on their medical history, use of antidepressants and self-reports of being depressed for long periods of time -- the women were randomly assigned to receive either tamoxifen or a placebo daily for up to five years.

Semi-annual tests revealed that those in the tamoxifen group had the same likelihood of developing depression as those in the placebo group. Also, as expected, the rates of depression varied from one depression risk group to another.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Women who use or are considering the use of tamoxifen for breast cancer prevention.

CAVEATS: The results may not apply to other ethnic or social groups, nor to those taking the drug as a treatment for breast cancer. In addition, the authors say there may be rare cases in which women react negatively to tamoxifen. Finally, the study did not use standardized psychiatric diagnoses to measure the women's anticipated risk of becoming depressed.

BOTTOM LINE: Women taking tamoxifen as a preventive measure need not worry about increasing their risk of depression.

FIND THIS STUDY Nov. 7 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute; abstract online at

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