Choosing early adjuvant therapy for postmenopausal women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer: aromatase inhibitors versus tamoxifen

Eur J Surg Oncol. 2008 Jul;34(7):746-55. doi: 10.1016/j.ejso.2008.01.011. Epub 2008 Mar 4.


Aims: The aromatase inhibitors (AIs) anastrozole, exemestane, and letrozole have demonstrated superior disease-free survival (DFS) over tamoxifen in several trials. As the choice of adjuvant endocrine treatment for early breast cancer (EBC) is evolving from tamoxifen to the AIs, this review compares the AIs with tamoxifen to help surgeons choose a treatment plan that provides the greatest reduction of recurrence risk for their patients.

Methods: MEDLINE was searched to identify relevant literature on the adjuvant use of tamoxifen and AIs in EBC.

Results: Despite the use of adjuvant tamoxifen, recurrence is a persistent threat to women with hormone-sensitive EBC. Trials of the AIs versus tamoxifen have established that patients benefit from longer DFS, and in some cases distant DFS, after the use of an AI as initial adjuvant therapy, as switch therapy following 2-3 years of tamoxifen, or as extended adjuvant therapy following 5 years of tamoxifen. The AIs are well tolerated, with a different safety profile than that of tamoxifen in all these settings. Trials addressing the optimal regimen and treatment duration for AIs are also underway.

Conclusions: The advantage in DFS associated with AIs over tamoxifen use should prompt physicians and patients to consider the use of an AI as the initial adjuvant endocrine therapy or, alternatively, switching patients who currently take tamoxifen to an AI for the remainder of adjuvant endocrine therapy. Prolonging the period of adjuvant therapy with letrozole after 5 years of tamoxifen reduces recurrence and is associated with a survival advantage in node-positive patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anastrozole
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use*
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Aromatase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Letrozole
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / drug therapy*
  • Nitriles / adverse effects
  • Nitriles / therapeutic use*
  • Postmenopause
  • Tamoxifen / adverse effects
  • Tamoxifen / therapeutic use*
  • Triazoles / adverse effects
  • Triazoles / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Aromatase Inhibitors
  • Nitriles
  • Triazoles
  • Tamoxifen
  • Anastrozole
  • Letrozole