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Semin Oncol. 2001 Aug;28(4):313-21.

Role of adjuvant endocrine therapy in early-stage breast cancer.

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University of Vermont College of Medicine, Fletcher Allen Health Care, Burlington, VT 05401, USA.


The value of adjuvant endocrine therapy in saving lives of women with estrogen receptor-positive (ER(+)) early-stage breast cancer cannot be disputed. Tamoxifen has proven to be effective in improving relapse-free and overall survival in both pre- and postmenopausal women with ER(+) early-stage breast cancer. In the meta-analysis of the Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group, the proportional reduction in recurrence and mortality for 5 years of tamoxifen therapy was 50% and 28% respectively for patients with ER(+) tumors. These reductions in recurrence and mortality were similar in both lymph node-negative (N(-)) and lymph node-positive (N(+)) patients and translate to an absolute improvement in 10-year survival of approximately 11% in N(+) patients and 6% in N(-) patients. Current data suggest that about 5 years of tamoxifen therapy is the optimal duration of treatment. For women with ER(-)/progesterone receptor-negative (PR(-)) tumors, tamoxifen does not lower the risk of distant metastases or improve survival. In ER(+) patients, the addition of tamoxifen to chemotherapy further lowers the risk of recurrence by about 30% to 40% when compared to chemotherapy alone. In premenopausal women with ER(+) breast cancer, ovarian ablation has proven to be as effective as chemotherapy in improving both relapse-free and overall survival and the potential additive role of ovarian ablation to chemotherapy and/or tamoxifen is presently being explored in clinical trials. The combination of tamoxifen and ovarian ablation is currently being tested and may be superior to tamoxifen alone. In addition, newer, more effective, and less toxic aromatase inhibitors are also being evaluated in clinical trials in the adjuvant setting and have great promise. "Pure" antiestrogens or selective estrogen receptor down-regulators (SERDs) will be studied in adjuvant clinical trials in the near future. Recent data also suggest that molecular markers such as HER-2/neu may predict the response to endocrine therapy, and other predictive factors are currently being evaluated. Lastly, there is renewed interest in neoadjuvant endocrine therapy, a treatment option that may select those patients with early-stage breast cancer most likely to benefit from endocrine therapy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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