The impressive first results of the Adjuvant Tamoxifen: Longer Against Shorter (ATLAS) and the adjuvant Tamoxifen To offer more (aTTom) trials both demonstrate that 10 years of tamoxifen is superior to five years of treatment. Tamoxifen is a nonsteroidal antiestrogen that blocks estrogen-stimulated tumor growth. Paradoxically, mortality decreases dramatically only in the decade after long-term tamoxifen is stopped. It is proposed that the evolution and clonal selection of micrometastases that acquire tamoxifen resistance now become increasingly vulnerable to endogenous estrogen-induced apoptosis. Laboratory and clinical studies confirm the concept, and supporting clinical evidence from the estrogen-alone trial in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), demonstrate that long-term estrogen-deprived women given exogenous physiologic estrogen have a decreased incidence of breast cancer and decreased mortality. It is proposed that a natural process of apoptosis is recruited to execute the long-term survival benefit of stopping ten years of adjuvant tamoxifen, but only after clonal selection of vulnerable breast cancer cells in an estrogen-deprived environment.
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