Anastrozole – Here we go again giving experimental drugs to perfectly healthy women

Anastrozole – Here we go again giving experimental drugs to perfectly healthy women

The NHS has said around 289,000 women could be offered anastrozole.  It comes after UK medicine regulators approved the drug on Monday under Britain’s Medicines Repurposing Programme, a new approvals process that repurposes old drugs for new uses – in this case, cancer prevention rather than treatment.

As with all prescription drugs there are risks and side effects.  Dr. Vernon Coleman questions why they would want to give such a powerful drug to healthy women.

By Dr. Vernon Coleman

Over a couple of decades ago there was a plan to give a drug called tamoxifen to every adult woman in Britain. The idea was that the drug would stop women developing breast cancer.

Now, tamoxifen can be a very useful drug.

If a woman has a hormone-responsive cancer, tamoxifen is a powerful treatment. (My wife has breast cancer and takes tamoxifen every day. You can rest assured that before she started taking it we weighed up the pros and cons very carefully. For the record, we decided that anastrozole was rather too risky. And Antoinette has breast cancer and would have taken the drug as a treatment.)

But, as with all prescription drugs, there are risks and tamoxifen has a number of side effects. It can actually cause other types of cancer. And when the plan to give tamoxifen to millions of women was first publicised, I fought a very successful single-handed campaign to stop the mass medication of women. (In those days I was writing five weekly columns, including one in The Sun newspaper, and regularly making TV and radio programmes.)

Here’s how I summarised my thoughts in my book ‘How to stop your doctor killing you’ (which was first published in 1996):

I was astonished and horrified when drug companies and doctors conspired to persuade completely healthy women to take a drug (tamoxifen) in order to try to prevent breast cancer despite the fact that it is known that the drug can cause cancer of the uterus.

Now, there is a plan to give a drug called anastrozole to hundreds of thousands of women “to stop them getting breast cancer”.

The mainstream media has been endlessly enthusiastic.

However, I haven’t seen much space given to the side effects known to be associated with this drug.

Probably the biggest problem is the reduction in bone density which can occur with the dosage given to women with breast cancer. You can probably imagine the problems which can occur with bone loss. For this reason, women given anastrozole for breast cancer are usually advised to have regular checks.

But that’s not the only problem.

Here’s a partial list of some of the side effects known to be linked to anastrozole. Naturally, not all women will get all these side effects. Some may not get any of them. But, remember, the plan is to give this drug to healthy women.

Commonest side effects include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Bone pain
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Pounding in the ears
  • Slow or fast heartbeat
  • Swelling of the feet or lower legs

Less common side effects include:

  • Arm, back or jaw pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Difficult or painful urination
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness, severe
  • Fever
  • Headaches which continue
  • Hoarseness
  • Hot flushes
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Lower back or side pain
  • Nausea
  • Pain, tenderness or bluish colour of foot or leg
  • Sore throat
  • Sweating
  • Unusual drowsiness, dullness, tiredness, weakness or feeling of sluggishness
  • Vaginal bleeding (unexpected and heavy)

And other possible side effects may include:

  • Blistering or peeling of the skin
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Dark urine
  • Depression
  • Diarrhoea
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • General tiredness
  • Incoherent speech
  • Increased urination
  • Itching, skin rash and hive-like swelling on the body
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Light coloured stools
  • Loss of appetite
  • Metallic taste
  • Muscle weakness
  • Puffiness or swelling around the eyes
  • Red skin lesions
  • Red, irritated eyes
  • Sores, ulcers and spots in the mouth or on the lips
  • Stomach pain
  • Thirst
  • Upper right abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Yellow eyes and skin

It would be nice to see doctors in corporate media discussing these problems and pointing it out that it isn’t necessarily a brilliant idea to give a powerful drug to huge numbers of healthy women who have nothing wrong with them. (The same concern covers other prescription drugs – such as anything prescribed for the overweight.)

But that’s not going to happen, is it? And I have no doubt that drug companies will be relieved to know that I am still completely banned from all corporate media and from all social media.

Maybe readers will encourage their friends and neighbours to visit this [Dr. Coleman’s] site and read this article. I would then suggest that women might like to mention the article to their GP or to any media doctor. For the record, the list of side effects I’ve given above is a generally accepted list. Just search the internet if you don’t believe me.

Vernon Coleman’s international bestselling book ‘How to stop your doctor killing you’ is available via the bookshop on  Just go to the section headed ‘Health books’.