Introduction: Tamoxifen therapy reduces the risk of recurrence and prolongs the survival of oestrogen-receptor-positive patients with breast cancer. Even if most patients benefit from tamoxifen, many breast tumours either fail to respond or become resistant. Because tamoxifen is extensively metabolised by polymorphic enzymes, one proposed mechanism underlying the resistance is altered metabolism. In the present study we investigated the prognostic and/or predictive value of functional polymorphisms in cytochrome P450 3A5 CYP3A5 (*3), CYP2D6 (*4), sulphotransferase 1A1 (SULT1A1; *2) and UDP-glucuronosyltransferase 2B15 (UGT2B15; *2) in tamoxifen-treated patients with breast cancer.
Methods: In all, 677 tamoxifen-treated postmenopausal patients with breast cancer, of whom 238 were randomised to either 2 or 5 years of tamoxifen, were genotyped by using PCR with restriction fragment length polymorphism or PCR with denaturing high-performance liquid chromatography.
Results: The prognostic evaluation performed in the total population revealed a significantly better disease-free survival in patients homozygous for CYP2D6*4. For CYP3A5, SULT1A1 and UGT2B15 no prognostic significance was observed. In the randomised group we found that for CYP3A5, homozygous carriers of the *3 allele tended to have an increased risk of recurrence when treated for 2 years with tamoxifen, although this was not statistically significant (hazard ratio (HR) = 2.84, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.68 to 11.99, P = 0.15). In the group randomised to 5 years' tamoxifen the survival pattern shifted towards a significantly improved recurrence-free survival (RFS) among CYP3A5*3-homozygous patients (HR = 0.20, 95% CI = 0.07 to 0.55, P = 0.002). No reliable differences could be seen between treatment duration and the genotypes of CYP2D6, SULT1A1 or UGT2B15. The significantly improved RFS with prolonged tamoxifen treatment in CYP3A5*3 homozygotes was also seen in a multivariate Cox model (HR = 0.13, CI = 0.02 to 0.86, P = 0.03), whereas no differences could be seen for CYP2D6, SULT1A1 and UGT2B15.
Conclusion: The metabolism of tamoxifen is complex and the mechanisms responsible for the resistance are unlikely to be explained by a single polymorphism; instead it is a combination of several mechanisms. However, the present data suggest that genetic variation in CYP3A5 may predict response to tamoxifen therapy.