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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2003 Oct;87(1):35-45.

The pharmacology of letrozole.

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  • 1Department of Academic Biochemistry, Royal Marsden Hospital, Fulham Road, London SW3 6JJ, UK.


Recent clinical trials indicate that the third-generation aromatase inhibitors may be more effective than tamoxifen as first line endocrine therapy in ER+ metastatic breast cancer in postmenopausal women. This review will focus exclusively on the pharmacology of the non-steroidal inhibitor letrozole. Aromatase derived from a variety of sources is inhibited at low nM concentrations of the drug. In non-cellular systems, letrozole is 2-5 times more potent than anastrozole and exemestane in its inhibition of aromatase, whilst in cellular systems it is 10-20 times more potent. Anti-tumour effects of letrozole have been demonstrated in several animal models. In postmenopausal women, letrozole commonly suppresses circulating concentrations of estrone and estradiol to below the sensitivity limit of the assays used to measure them. In a recent randomized cross-over study, letrozole (2.5mg daily) achieved a significantly greater suppression of the plasma concentrations of both estrone and estrone sulphate than anastrozole (1mg daily) and a greater inhibition of in vivo aromatization. Letrozole appears to have a small effect on adrenal steroidogenesis such that a small number of patients exhibit an abnormal response to synthetic ACTH during letrozole therapy. This is unlikely to have any clinical significance. In short-term studies letrozole has been shown to increase markers of bone resorption indicating the need to monitor bone integrity when the drug is used for extended periods of time. A consistent effect of letrozole on serum lipids has not been demonstrated.

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