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Cancer Invest. 2001;19(6):649-59.

Selective estrogen receptor modulation: the search for an ideal hormonal therapy for breast cancer.

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  • 1Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc., Nutley, New Jersey 07110, USA.


Female hormones, especially estrogens, play an important role in the pathogenesis of breast neoplasms and are a principal determinant of their biological behavior. Endocrine manipulation through medical or surgical means can often lead to objective shrinkage of breast tumors. Tamoxifen, a triphenylethylene estrogen receptor modulator, is currently the most widely used hormonal treatment for breast cancer. It has been conclusively demonstrated to reduce the risk of relapse following definitive local therapy (and systemic chemotherapy, when indicated) of invasive or noninvasive breast cancer. Recently, it has also been shown to reduce the incidence of breast cancer in healthy women who are at high risk of developing the disease. In addition, it can prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women. However, its use is also complicated by an increased incidence of endometrial hyperplasia/carcinoma, venous thromboembolism, cataracts, and in some cases, emergence of tamoxifen-dependent clones of breast cancer. These side effects (except cataracts) are believed to be related to estrogen-agonist effects of tamoxifen. Newer drugs, which are "pure antiestrogens" or inhibitors of estrogen biosynthesis, are devoid of such estrogen-agonist activity and may not have the liability of many of these side effects. However, these agents would also be expected to lack the potentially beneficial effects of tamoxifen on lipids and skeletal system. The ability of tamoxifen to act as an estrogen-agonist or estrogen-antagonist in a tissue-specific fashion has led to the concept of selective estrogen-receptor modulation. Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), which are devoid of estrogen-agonist effects on the uterus or breast cancer cells but retain potentially beneficial effects on bones and lipids, have been described as "ideal" SERMs. A number of such compounds are currently being tested. Raloxifene is already approved for prevention of osteoporosis and has potential efficacy for prevention and treatment of breast cancer. An analogue of raloxifene, LY353381, is currently in Phase II clinical trials for treatment of breast cancer, with promising early results. EM800 and CP336156 are other promising ideal SERMs in clinical trials. These compounds may provide better treatment and chemoprevention alternatives for breast cancer as compared to tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors, and pure antiestrogens. In addition, they may also prove to be useful for the treatment and prevention of prostate cancer as well as for treating benign gynecological diseases such as fibroids and endometriosis. Future laboratory efforts should focus on further broadening the efficacy profile of SERMs (e.g., prevention of Alzheimer's disease and elevation of high-density lipoproteins to improve the likelihood of cardiovascular benefit) and narrowing their side-effect profile (e.g., risk of thromboembolism and hot flashes).

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