Tamoxifen Resistant and Refractory Breast Cancer: The Value of Aromatase Inhibitors

Goss, P.E.; Strasser, K.
March 2002
Drugs;2002, Vol. 62 Issue 6, p957
Academic Journal
Tamoxifen has dominated endocrine treatment of breast cancer for over two decades. It is useful in metastatic breast cancer, adjuvant therapy, preoperative treatment, ductal carcinoma-in-situ and chemoprevention. However, breast cancer may be refractory to tamoxifen or develop resistance to it with ongoing treatment. This resistance involves several mechanisms including receptor mutation causing ‘estrogen hypersensitivity’ and an increasing agonist effect of tamoxifen. Megestrol (megestrol acetate), in North America, and aminoglutethimide, in Europe, have been the traditional second line therapies after tamoxifen in advanced breast cancer. Aromatase (estrogen synthetase) inhibitors are a logical alternative to tamoxifen to antagonise the effects of estrogen on breast cancer. The third-generation non-steroidal aromatase inhibitors anastrozole, letrozole and vorozole, and the steroidal inhibitor exemestane, have been studied after tamoxifen versus either megestrol or aminoglutethimide. They showed enhanced efficacy and significantly superior toxicity profiles. Compliance with the inhibitors was also significantly better than with the traditional treatments. Aromatase inhibitors have most recently been shown to be superior to tamoxifen as initial therapy and are being extensively tested in the adjuvant setting after, or instead of, tamoxifen. Pilot studies of chemoprevention are also being undertaken. The aromatase inhibitors are an important new addition to the armamentarium of breast cancer therapy.


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