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Background: The concept of quality of life (QOL) increasingly has been used to assess health-related outcomes associated with a specific disease or its treatment, especially in patients with incurable tumors, such as metastatic breast cancer (MBC). Hormonal therapy (HT) is often used to treat hormone receptor—positive MBC, with the primary treatment goal of reducing both disease burden and patients suffering.
Objective: This article reviews the instruments used to assess QOL in patients with breast cancer, the adverse effects of HTs, and the clinical trials that assess QOL in patients with MBC receiving various HTs.
Methods: Articles were identified for inclusion in this manuscript through the following searches, limited to English-language publications: MEDLINE (mid 1960s to January 2002), American Society of Oncology abstracts (1997–2001), and San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium abstracts (2001 and 2002). The following search terms were used: quality of life, breast cancer, hormonal therapies, tamoxifen, toremifene, letrozole, anastrozole, exemestane, and megestrol acetate.
Conclusions: QOL assessment following MBC treatment has become an important indicator of treatment effectiveness, and numerous clinical trials have studied the impact of HT on QOL. In general, the older HTs, such as the progestins and selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), produce more adverse effects than do the newer HTs, such as the aromatase inhibitors (AIs) and estrogen receptor (ER) antagonists. QOL data regarding tamoxifen, a SERM associated with a high incidence of vasomotor symptoms and vaginal discharge, are limited, although tamoxifen has not been associated with significant psychological distress when administered as a chemopreventive or adjuvant MBC therapy in clinical trials. QOL studies comparing the third-generation AIs with tamoxifen or megestrol acetate show that the AIs produce a more favorable QOL, probably because these agents target the aromatase enzyme, which results in a lower incidence of thromboembolism and vaginal bleeding. Although QOL studies of the ER antagonist fulvestrant have not been conducted, several attributes of this new HT may contribute to the retention of a good QOL in patients with MBC. A variety of QOL-assessment tools to measure the impact of HTs on patients with MBC are available. Clinical trial data regarding QOL in patients with MBC receiving HT will be useful for both clinicians and patients in evaluating treatment options and developing treatment strategies.
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Accepted: April 2, 2002
© 2002 Published by Elsevier Inc.