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World J Biol Chem. 2015 Aug 26;6(3):231-9. doi: 10.4331/wjbc.v6.i3.231.

Current medical treatment of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

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Franco Lumachi, Department of Surgery, Oncology and Gasteroenterology, University of Padua, School of Medicine, 35128 Padova, Italy.


Approximately 80% of breast cancers (BC) are estrogen receptor (ER)-positive and thus endocrine therapy (ET) should be considered complementary to surgery in the majority of patients. The advantages of oophorectomy, adrenalectomy and hypophysectomy in women with advanced BC have been demonstrated many years ago, and currently ET consist of (1) ovarian function suppression (OFS), usually obtained using gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists (GnRHa); (2) selective estrogen receptor modulators or down-regulators (SERMs or SERDs); and (3) aromatase inhibitors (AIs), or a combination of two or more drugs. For patients aged less than 50 years and ER+ BC, there is no conclusive evidence that the combination of OFS and SERMs (i.e., tamoxifen) or chemotherapy is superior to OFS alone. Tamoxifen users exhibit a reduced risk of BC, both invasive and in situ, especially during the first 5 years of therapy, and extending the treatment to 10 years further reduced the risk of recurrences. SERDs (i.e., fulvestrant) are especially useful in the neoadjuvant treatment of advanced BC, alone or in combination with either cytotoxic agents or AIs. There are two types of AIs: type I are permanent steroidal inhibitors of aromatase, while type II are reversible nonsteroidal inhibitors. Several studies demonstrated the superiority of the third-generation AIs (i.e., anastrozole and letrozole) compared with tamoxifen, and adjuvant therapy with AIs reduces the recurrence risk especially in patients with advanced BC. Unfortunately, some cancers are or became ET-resistant, and thus other drugs have been suggested in combination with SERMs or AIs, including cyclin-dependent kinase 4/6 inhibitors (palbociclib) and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors, such as everolimus. Further studies are required to confirm their real usefulness.


Aromatase inhibitors; Breast cancer; Endocrine therapy; GnRH-agonists; Ovarian function suppression; Selective estrogen receptor modulator; Tamoxifen

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