Superior efficacy of letrozole versus tamoxifen as first-line therapy for postmenopausal women with advanced breast cancer: results of a phase III study of the International Letrozole Breast Cancer Group

J Clin Oncol. 2001 May 15;19(10):2596-606. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2001.19.10.2596.


Purpose: To compare the efficacy and tolerability of tamoxifen with that of letrozole, an oral aromatase inhibitor, with tamoxifen as first-line therapy in postmenopausal women with advanced breast cancer.

Patients and methods: Nine hundred seven patients were randomly assigned letrozole 2.5 mg once daily (453 patients) or tamoxifen 20 mg once daily (454 patients). Patients had estrogen receptor- and/or progesterone receptor-positive tumors, or both receptors were unknown. Recurrence during adjuvant antiestrogen therapy or within the following 12 months or prior endocrine therapy for advanced disease precluded enrollment. One prior chemotherapy regimen for metastatic disease was allowed. The primary end point was time to progression (TTP). Secondary end points included overall objective response rate (ORR), its duration, rate and duration of clinical benefit, time to treatment failure (TTF), overall survival, and tolerability.

Results: TTP was significantly longer for letrozole than for tamoxifen (median, 41 v 26 weeks). Treatment with letrozole reduced the risk of progression by 30% (hazards ratio, 0.70; 95% confidence interval, 0.60 to 0.82, P =.0001). TTP was significantly longer for letrozole irrespective of dominant site of disease, receptor status, or prior adjuvant antiestrogen therapy. Similarly, TTF was significantly longer for letrozole (median, 40 v 25 weeks). ORR was higher for letrozole (30% v 20%; P =.0006), as was the rate of clinical benefit (49% v 38%; P =.001). Survival data are currently immature and not reported here. Both treatments were well tolerated.

Conclusion: Letrozole was significantly superior to tamoxifen in TTP, TTF, ORR, and clinical benefit rate. Our results support its use as first-line endocrine therapy in postmenopausal women with advanced breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Letrozole
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitriles / adverse effects
  • Nitriles / therapeutic use*
  • Postmenopause
  • Tamoxifen / adverse effects
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Triazoles / adverse effects
  • Triazoles / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Nitriles
  • Triazoles
  • Tamoxifen
  • Letrozole