Systematic review of aromatase inhibitors in the first-line treatment for hormone sensitive advanced or metastatic breast cancer

Rob Riemsma, C A Forbes, A Kessels, K Lykopoulos, M M Amonkar, D W Rea, J Kleijnen
Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2010, 123 (1): 9-24
To undertake a systematic review of three first-line treatments (letrozole, anastrozole and exemestane) for hormone sensitive advanced or metastatic breast cancer (MBC) in post-menopausal women. We searched six databases from inception up to January 2009 for relevant trials regardless of language or publication status. Randomised controlled clinical trials assessing the safety and efficacy of first-line AIs for post-menopausal women with hormone receptor-positive (HR+, i.e. ER+ and/or PgR+) with or without ErbB2 (HER2)-positive MBC, who have not received prior therapy for advanced or metastatic disease were included. Where meta-analysis using direct or indirect comparisons was considered unsuitable for some or all of the data, we employed a narrative synthesis method. Four studies (25 papers) met the inclusion criteria. From the available evidence, it was possible to directly compare the three AIs with tamoxifen. In addition, by using a network meta-analysis it was possible to compare the three AIs with each other. Based on direct evidence, letrozole seemed to be significantly better than tamoxifen in terms of time-to-progression (TTP) (HR = 0.70 (95% CI: 0.60, 0.82)), objective response rate (RR = 0.65 (95% CI: 0.52, 0.82)) and quality-adjusted time without symptoms or toxicity (Q-Twist difference = 1.5; P < 0.001). Exemestane seemed significantly superior to tamoxifen in terms of objective response rate (RR = 0.68 (95% CI: 0.53, 0.89)). Anastrozole seemed significantly superior to tamoxifen in terms of TTP in one trial (HR = 1.42 (95% CI: 1.15, NR)), but not in the other (HR = 1.01 (95% CI: 0.87, NR)). In terms of adverse events, no significant differences were found between letrozole and tamoxifen. Tamoxifen was associated with significantly more serious adverse events in comparison with exemestane (OR = 0.61 (95% CI: 0.38, 0.97)); while exemestane was associated with significantly more arthralgia in comparison with tamoxifen (OR = 2.33 (95% CI: 1.07, 5.11)). Anastrozole was associated with significantly more total adverse events (OR = 1.04 (95% CI: 1.00, 1.09)) and hot flushes (OR = 1.39 (95% CI: 1.03, 1.89)) in comparison with tamoxifen in one trial; however, the other trial showed no significant differences in adverse events between anastrozole and tamoxifen. The indirect comparison of AIs with each other in women with post-menopausal, hormone sensitive advanced or MBC showed that letrozole and exemestane were better in terms of objective response rate than anastrozole; while the more clinically relevant outcomes overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS) showed no significant differences between AIs. OS and PFS showed no significant differences between AIs and hence based on these results a class effect for all AIs is possible. However, these results are based on indirect comparisons and a network analysis for which the basic assumptions of homogeneity, similarity and consistency were not fulfilled. Therefore, despite the fact that these are the best available data, the results need to be interpreted with appropriate caution. Head-to-head comparisons between letrozole, anastrozole and exemestane in the first-line MBC setting are warranted.

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