Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor use and breast cancer survival: a population-based cohort study

John Busby, Ken Mills, Shu-Dong Zhang, Fabio Liberante, Christopher Cardwell

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Background: Nearly 50% of breast cancer patients suffer from depression or anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the first-line pharmacological treatment for depression, have been implicated in breast cancer development through increased prolactin levels and tamoxifen metabolism inhibition. Previous studies of breast cancer progression have focused on tamoxifen users, or been limited by their small sample size and methodology. Therefore, we used UK population-based data to more robustly investigate the association between SSRI use and cancer-specific mortality.

Methods: A cohort of patients with newly-diagnosed breast cancer between 1998 and 2012 was selected from English cancer registries and linked to prescription records from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, and death records from the Office for National Statistics. We used Cox-regression models to calculate hazard ratios (HRs) comparing mortality between post-diagnostic SSRI users and non-users (using time-dependant covariates), after adjusting for demographics, comorbidities and pre-diagnosis use of hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives. We conducted several additional analyses to assess causality.

Results: Our cohort included 23,669 breast cancer patients, of which 2,672 used SSRIs and 3,053 died due to their breast cancer during follow-up. After adjustment, SSRI users had higher breast cancer-specific mortality than non-users (HR=1.27; 95% CI: 1.16, 1.40). However, this association was attenuated when restricting to patients with a prior history of depression (HR=1.14; 95% CI: 0.98, 1.33), and when comparing to users of other antidepressant medications (HR=1.06; 95% CI: 0.93, 1.20). There was some evidence of higher mortality among long-term SSRI users, even when restricting to patients with prior depression (HR=1.54; 95% CI: 1.03, 2.29).

Conclusions: In this large breast cancer cohort, SSRI use was associated with a 27% increase in breast cancer mortality. The cause of this is unknown, however confounding by indication seems likely as it was largely attenuated when restricting to patients with prior depression, or when comparing SSRIs to other antidepressant medications. Clinicians should not be unduly concerned when prescribing SSRIs to breast cancer patients, however the increase in mortality among long-term SSRI users warrants further investigation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalBreast Cancer Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2018


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