Hormonal effects of aromatase inhibitors: focus on premenopausal effects and interaction with tamoxifen

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2003 Sep;86(3-5):255-63. doi: 10.1016/s0960-0760(03)00365-0.


Third generation aromatase inhibitors have excellent specificity. Some reports indicate that letrozole may have a minor effect on cortisol synthesis but these were not confirmed: valid comparisons with other aromatase inhibitors requires randomised study. The putative use of a third generation inhibitor as a single agent in premenopausal women has been investigated using YM511. It was hypothesised that in this situation site-specific suppression of estrogens in breast carcinomas, without systemic effects, may lead to a down-regulation of tumour proliferation. Plasma levels of androstenedione and testosterone were significantly increased by 2 weeks treatment with YM511. Mean plasma estrone levels were suppressed, but some plasma estradiol levels were abnormally high and others abnormally low. These differential effects of YM511 on circulating estrogens supported the concept that peripheral synthesis of estrogens might be suppressed while ovarian production remained high. However, YM511 did not demonstrate anti-proliferative effects in hormone sensitive breast carcinomas. Consideration of the pharmacology of the estrogen receptor during tamoxifen therapy indicates that tamoxifen effectively saturates the receptor (>99.94% occupancy) in postmenopausal women. The addition of an aromatase inhibitor in this situation would be very unlikely to affect the biological activity of the estrogen receptor. This provides a possible explanation why the clinical efficacy of tamoxifen combined with an aromatase inhibitor appears to be equivalent to that of tamoxifen alone.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Aromatase Inhibitors*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Interactions
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Estrogen Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Estrogens / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menstrual Cycle / blood
  • Menstrual Cycle / drug effects
  • Premenopause / blood
  • Premenopause / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / drug effects
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Tamoxifen / analogs & derivatives
  • Tamoxifen / metabolism
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology*


  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Estrogen Antagonists
  • Estrogens
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Tamoxifen
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone