Aromatase inhibitors in early breast cancer therapy: a variety of treatment strategies

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Until recently, standard endocrine therapy for estrogen receptor-positive early breast cancer in the preoperative neoadjuvant and postoperative adjuvant settings was the selective estrogen receptor modulator tamoxifen. An alternate therapeutic approach is to suppress total-body estrogen synthesis using an aromatase inhibitor. The highly potent and specific third-generation aromatase inhibitors (anastrozole, exemestane and letrozole) have consistently demonstrated improved efficacy over tamoxifen in large randomised neoadjuvant and adjuvant clinical trials. As neoadjuvant therapy, compared with tamoxifen, all three aromatase inhibitors significantly improved breast-conserving surgery rates, but only letrozole achieved a significantly higher overall response rate. These agents have also been evaluated in three adjuvant strategies: instead of tamoxifen for 5 years, sequenced after 2-3 years of tamoxifen, or as extended adjuvant therapy following a full 5-year course of tamoxifen. In all cases, the aromatase inhibitor was significantly more effective in reducing the risk of recurrence, compared with tamoxifen in the first two approaches and with placebo or no treatment as extended therapy. Long-term aromatase inhibitor treatment is associated with less endometrial cancer, thromboembolic events and strokes than tamoxifen, but more musculoskeletal disorders and bone loss. Further investigation is focusing on identification of the patient subgroups most likely to benefit from each of these adjuvant therapy options.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2465-79
Number of pages15
JournalExpert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006


  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Breast Neoplasms
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Time Factors


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