Sequential hormonal therapy for metastatic breast cancer after adjuvant tamoxifen or anastrozole

Robert W Carlson, I Craig Henderson
Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2003, 80 Suppl 1: S19-26; discussion S27-8
The use of adjuvant endocrine therapy in the treatment of hormone receptor-positive, early breast cancer has become important in both pre- and postmenopausal women. Tamoxifen has been the principal adjuvant hormonal therapy in pre- and postmenopausal women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer for nearly 20 years. Recent data in premenopausal women suggest benefit from ovarian ablation with or without tamoxifen. Early results from the 'Arimidex', Tamoxifen, Alone or in Combination (ATAC) trial have demonstrated that the third-generation, selective aromatase inhibitor (AI) anastrozole ('Arimidex') is a suitable alternative adjuvant therapy for postmenopausal women with hormone receptor-positive disease. After recurrence or relapse on adjuvant endocrine therapy, responses to the sequential use of additional endocrine agents are common. The increase in the number of options now available for adjuvant therapy will have important implications for the selection of the optimal sequence of endocrine agents in the treatment of recurrent breast cancer. Menopausal status is an important factor in determining the endocrine therapy that a patient receives. For premenopausal women, tamoxifen and/or a luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonist such as goserelin ('Zoladex') are both options for adjuvant endocrine treatment. After progression on adjuvant and first-line tamoxifen, ovarian ablation is an appropriate second-line therapy. For premenopausal women who have undergone ovarian ablation, the use of third-line therapy with an AI becomes possible. For postmenopausal women, a wide choice of endocrine treatment options is available and an optimal sequence has yet to be determined. Options for first-line therapy of metastatic disease include an AI for women who have received adjuvant tamoxifen or tamoxifen for patients who have received adjuvant anastrozole. In addition, data suggest that fulvestrant ('Faslodex'), a novel estrogen receptor (ER) antagonist that downregulates the ER protein and has no known agonist effects, is a promising therapeutic option that has shown efficacy in the treatment of postmenopausal women with advanced breast cancer. Other agents that may be used in the sequence include the steroidal AI exemestane and the progestin megestrol acetate. The widening range of adjuvant endocrine options therefore represents an opportunity to prolong patient benefits in the treatment of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, and will require the further refinement of the optimal sequence of endocrine agents for the treatment of recurrent breast cancer.

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