Extended adjuvant endocrine therapy of early breast cancer

Curr Med Res Opin. 2005 Dec;21(12):1985-95. doi: 10.1185/030079905X65619.


Women who are diagnosed with early breast cancer remain at considerable risk of recurrence over the next several decades, even if their tumors were small and lymph nodes were negative, and despite receiving standard adjuvant therapy. A majority of breast cancers are hormone (estrogen) receptor-positive and amenable to endocrine therapy, and for those women five years of the selective estrogen receptor modulator tamoxifen is standard therapy. Longer treatment of node-negative patients with tamoxifen may reduce survival benefits, however, possibly due to tamoxifen resistance and emerging receptor agonist activity of that drug. Aromatase inhibitors, which indirectly prevent estrogen stimulation of breast cancer by suppressing whole-body estrogen synthesis in post-menopausal women, are being investigated as alternative, or complementary, therapy to adjuvant tamoxifen in those women: as an alternative to five years of tamoxifen, sequenced with two to three years of tamoxifen, or following five years of tamoxifen. The strategy to extend the benefits of adjuvant therapy beyond a standard course of tamoxifen, using the aromatase inhibitor letrozole, was explored in a large trial, MA.17. Compared with women who received placebo, those who were treated with letrozole experienced a significant 43% reduction in their residual risk of recurrence. This effect was seen regardless of nodal status. Based on the long-term risk of most women with early breast cancer and the MA.17 trial results, the extended adjuvant letrozole may benefit many of those women who are disease-free after five years of tamoxifen. This review is based on a literature search of databases including MEDLINE/PubMed, San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, and the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, up to and including August 2005, with information selected for its relevance to adjuvant therapy of breast cancer with endocrine therapy only.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aromatase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use


  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Tamoxifen