Aromatase inhibitors in the treatment of breast cancer

Endocr Rev. 2005 May;26(3):331-45. doi: 10.1210/er.2004-0015. Epub 2005 Apr 6.


Estradiol, the most potent endogenous estrogen, is biosynthesized from androgens by the cytochrome P450 enzyme complex called aromatase. Aromatase is present in breast tissue, and intratumoral aromatase is the source of local estrogen production in breast cancer tissues. Inhibition of aromatase is an important approach for reducing growth-stimulatory effects of estrogens in estrogen-dependent breast cancer. Steroidal inhibitors that have been developed to date build upon the basic androstenedione nucleus and incorporate chemical substituents at varying positions on the steroid. Nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitors can be divided into three classes: aminoglutethimide-like molecules, imidazole/triazole derivatives, and flavonoid analogs. Mechanism-based aromatase inhibitors are steroidal inhibitors that mimic the substrate, are converted by the enzyme to a reactive intermediate, and result in the inactivation of aromatase. Both steroidal and nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitors have shown clinical efficacy in the treatment of breast cancer. The potent and selective third-generation aromatase inhibitors, anastrozole, letrozole, and exemestane, were introduced into the market as endocrine therapy in postmenopausal patients failing antiestrogen therapy alone or multiple hormonal therapies. These agents are currently approved as first-line therapy for the treatment of postmenopausal women with metastatic estrogen-dependent breast cancer. Several clinical studies of aromatase inhibitors are currently focusing on the use of these agents in the adjuvant setting for the treatment of early breast cancer. Use of an aromatase inhibitor as initial therapy or after treatment with tamoxifen is now recommended as adjuvant hormonal therapy for a postmenopausal woman with hormone-dependent breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Aromatase / metabolism
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Estrogens / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / enzymology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Estrogens
  • Aromatase