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Background: Hormonal therapy (HT) is an important consideration in the management of postmenopausal women with metastatic breast cancer. Despite the fact that the advanced-stage disease is virtually incurable, HTs can offer patients disease control equivalent to that of chemotherapy, but with improved quality of life (QOL). Knowledge of the estrogen and progesterone receptor status, as well as other clinical factors, allows for selection of patients who are most likely to benefit from HT. Disease that becomes refractory to an initial HT may respond to another agent or class of HTs. Thus, HTs are generally administered sequentially, delaying the need for cytotoxic chemotherapy, which often reduces QOL. Optimal sequencing is thus one of the more important facets of HT. Prior to the release of a number of newer agents, tamoxifen had been considered as initial HT. At present, more agents exist, including the aromatase inhibitors, progestins, and the estrogen receptor antagonist fulvestrant.
Objective: This article reviews key trials evaluating the use of sequential 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: breast cancer, hormonal therapies, tamoxifen, toremifene, letrozole, anastrozole, exemestane, megestrol acetate, fulvestrant, and ICI 182,780.
Results: Results of Phase III studies have shown many of these agents to be equivalent or superior to tamoxifen and can be used initially to treat patients who either have failed tamoxifen therapy or may be unable to tolerate some of the toxicities associated with tamoxifen. For example, the aromatase inhibitors have been shown to be highly active and tolerable in postmenopausal women with breast cancer who have failed tamoxifen therapy or who are naive to HT. Other clinical trials have demonstrated the efficacy of fulvestrant in patients with metastatic breast cancer who are tamoxifen-resistant, and have shown fulvestrant to be at least as effective as anastrozole in tamoxifen-resistant patients.
Conclusions: Although the optimum sequence of HTs remains controversial, using the newer agents as initial or subsequent therapy should improve QOL and may improve overall survival.
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Accepted: April 2, 2002
© 2002 Published by Elsevier Inc.