A comparison of letrozole and tamoxifen in postmenopausal women with early breast cancer

Beat Thürlimann, Aparna Keshaviah, Alan S. Coates, Henning Mouridsen, Louis Mauriac, John F. Forbes, Robert Paridaens, Monica Castiglione-Gertsch, Richard D. Gelber, Manuela Rabaglio, Ian Smith, Andrew Wardly, Karen N. Price, Aron Goldhirsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: The aromatase inhibitor letrozole is a more effective treatment for metastatic breast cancer and more effective in the neoadjuvant setting than tamoxifen. We compared letrozole with tamoxifen as adjuvant treatment for steroid-hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women. METHODS: The Breast International Group (BIG) 1-98 study is a randomized, phase 3, double-blind trial that compared five years of treatment with various adjuvant endocrine therapy regimens in postmenopausal women with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer: letrozole, letrozole followed by tamoxifen, tamoxifen, and tamoxifen followed by letrozole. This analysis compares the two groups assigned to receive letrozole initially with the two groups assigned to receive tamoxifen initially; events and follow-up in the sequential-treatment groups were included up to the time that treatments were switched. RESULTS: A total of 8010 women with data that could be assessed were enrolled, 4003 in the letrozole group and 4007 in the tamoxifen group. After a median follow-up of 25.8 months, 351 events had occurred in the letrozole group and 428 events in the tamoxifen group, with five-year disease-free survival estimates of 84.0 percent and 81.4 percent, respectively. As compared with tamoxifen, letrozole significantly reduced the risk of an event ending a period of disease-free survival (hazard ratio, 0.81; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.70 to 0.93; P = 0.003), especially the risk of distant recurrence (hazard ratio, 0.73; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.60 to 0.88; P = 0.001). Thromboembolism, endometrial cancer, and vaginal bleeding were more common in the tamoxifen group. Women given letrozole had a higher incidence of skeletal and cardiac events and of hypercholesterolemia. CONCLUSIONS: In postmenopausal women with endocrine-responsive breast cancer, adjuvant treatment with letrozole, as compared with tamoxifen, reduced the risk of recurrent disease, especially at distant sites. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00004205.)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2747-2757
Number of pages11
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - Dec 29 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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