Aromatase inhibitors in the treatment of postmenopausal breast cancer

Emilio Bajetta, Nicoletta Zilembo, Ettore Bichisao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Anastrozole, letrozole and vorozole are new aromatase inhibitors with a nonsteroidal structure (NSS), and have been demonstrated to be highly effective and better tolerated than standard endocrine therapy with megestrol (megestrol acetate) and aminoglutethimide (AG). These agents are very potent and selective: all of them are capable of suppressing estrone (E1) and estradiol (E2) to the limit of sensitivity methods, and plasma estrone sulfate (E1S) levels are also suppressed. However, the fact that this potency has not led to any greater clinical efficacy, and that there is no relationship between estrogen suppression and clinical response, suggests that aromatase inhibitors may have additional mechanisms of action. A number of international, multicentre clinical trials have compared anastrozole, letrozole and vorozole with megestrol 160 mg/day or AG 500 mg/day plus hydrocortisone in patients with advanced breast cancer. Letrozole proved to be significantly more effective than megestrol but anastrozole had a greater effect on survival than either agent. However, letrozole therapy led to longer survival than that observed in patients treated with AG. The activity of vorozole was similar to that of megestrol and AG. These results have raised a number of questions. The first is how should the clinical results be evaluated, given that 'disease stabilisation lasting ≥ 6 months' has been considered a response? The second is how should these drugs be used, and whether there is a rationale for using them in combination or sequentially in the treatment of patients with advanced breast cancer? Finally, is the possible effect of formestane and vorozole on intratumoral aromatase an alternative or concomitant mechanism of action? Anastrozole, letrozole and vorozole will be compared with tamoxifen in postmenopausal patients with breast cancer in adjuvant and primary settings. However, we feel that concomitant biological and clinical studies should also be carried out in order to clarify the properties of these drugs and avoid possible risks for patients over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-283
Number of pages13
JournalDrugs and Aging
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Pharmacology

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