This phase II, multicentre, open-label, clinical trial evaluated antitumoral efficacy, tolerability and endocrine effects following 25 mg of treatment with oral exemestane given daily to postmenopausal women with metastatic breast cancer. Eligibility criteria included oestrogen and/or progesterone positivity or a prior response to hormonal therapy if receptor status was unknown; prior failure to tamoxifen therapy; and progressive disease. Patients were divided into three strata: patients who did not respond to tamoxifen or progressed after disease stabilisation (SD) for less than 6 months (stratum 1); patients who, after an initial response or SD lasting at least 6 months, experienced disease progression whilst on tamoxifen (stratum 2); patients with recurrent metastatic disease during or within 12 months of discontinuing adjuvant tamoxifen (stratum 3). Of the 137 patients who received exemestane, 4 experienced a complete response (CR) and 28 a partial response (PR), for an overall response rate of 23%. Another 33 patients had SD for > or = 24 weeks, resulting in an overall success rate of 47%. The median time to objective response was 16.1 weeks (95% confidence interval (CI) 9.9-24.1). The median response duration was 69.4 weeks, the median duration of overall success 59.1 weeks, the median time to progression (TTP) 25.1 weeks and the median time to treatment failure (TTF) 24 weeks. Response to previous hormonal therapy had little effect on the results, except that there was a trend toward a higher overall success rate in patients who did not respond to previous hormonal therapy. After 8 weeks of therapy, serum levels of oestradiol (E2), oestrone (E1) and oestrone sulphate (E1S) were suppressed to 15.2%, 9.7% and 10.7% of baseline, respectively. The most common adverse events of drug-related or indeterminate cause were hot flushes (14%), dizziness (9%), nausea (8%) and increased sweating (5%). Exemestane had a favourable effect on performance status and tumour-related signs and symptoms, both of which improved or stabilised in approximately 67% and 68% of patients respectively. Exemestane is a unique therapy that is highly active and well tolerated as a new treatment for women with metastatic breast cancer.