Exemestane is a third-generation aromatase inhibitor, which has proven to be a useful drug in the treatment of early stage breast cancer. Several clinical trials have been performed or are currently underway using exemestane as adjuvant therapy in postmenopausal women, which will be the indication reviewed here. A relative reduction in risk of breast cancer recurrence or death of 24% has been shown with exemestane compared with tamoxifen when given after 2 to 3 years of tamoxifen. This corresponded to a 3.3% absolute reduction in recurrence or death at the end of 5 years, for a number needed to treat of 30. The main use of exemestane in the adjuvant setting is as an alternative to tamoxifen, and toxicities are discussed in relation to tamoxifen toxicities. In general, patients receiving exemestane experience less hot flashes and more arthralgias in comparison to tamoxifen, while there is also a reduction in venous thromboembolic events and vaginal bleeding. Patients on exemestane as a group do not appear to have a significantly changed quality of life in comparison to tamoxifen, while having a statistically significant benefit in preventing breast cancer recurrence.
breast cancer; exemestane; adjuvant
Background: The antiestrogen tamoxifen may have partial estrogen-like effects on the postmenopausal uterus. Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are increasingly used after initial tamoxifen in the adjuvant treatment of postmenopausal early breast cancer due to their mechanism of action: a potential benefit being a reduction of uterine abnormalities caused by tamoxifen.
Patients and methods: Sonographic uterine effects of the steroidal AI exemestane were studied in 219 women participating in the Intergroup Exemestane Study: a large trial in postmenopausal women with estrogen receptor-positive (or unknown) early breast cancer, disease free after 2–3 years of tamoxifen, randomly assigned to continue tamoxifen or switch to exemestane to complete 5 years adjuvant treatment. The primary end point was the proportion of patients with abnormal (≥5 mm) endometrial thickness (ET) on transvaginal ultrasound 24 months after randomisation.
Results: The analysis included 183 patients. Two years after randomisation, the proportion of patients with abnormal ET was significantly lower in the exemestane compared with tamoxifen arm (36% versus 62%, respectively; P = 0.004). This difference emerged within 6 months of switching treatment (43.5% versus 65.2%, respectively; P = 0.01) and disappeared within 12 months of treatment completion (30.8% versus 34.7%, respectively; P = 0.67).
Conclusion: Switching from tamoxifen to exemestane significantly reverses endometrial thickening associated with continued tamoxifen.
adjuvant treatment; aromatase inhibitors; breast cancer; endometrium; exemestane; tamoxifen
This phase III randomized open-label clinical trial was designed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of the steroidal aromatase inactivator exemestane versus the antiestrogen tamoxifen as first-line treatment for metastatic breast cancer (MBC) in postmenopausal women.
Patients and Methods
The study was conducted at 81 centers and enrolled postmenopausal patients with measurable hormone-sensitive metastatic or locally advanced breast cancer. Prior adjuvant chemotherapy and/or tamoxifen were allowed. One previous chemotherapy regimen and no prior hormone therapy for advanced disease were permitted. Patients were randomly assigned to receive exemestane 25 mg or tamoxifen 20 mg orally once daily until disease progression or unacceptable toxicity occurred.
A total of 371 patients enrolled at 79 sites (182 exemestane, 189 tamoxifen) were included in the analysis. Both treatments were generally well tolerated without major toxicity. Overall response rate was greater for exemestane than for tamoxifen treatment (46% v 31%; odds ratio = 1.85; 95% CI, 1.21 to 2.82; P = .005). Median progression-free survival (PFS) was longer with exemestane (9.9 months; 95% CI, 8.7 to 11.8 months) than with tamoxifen (5.8 months; 95% CI, 5.3 to 8.1 months). However, these early differences (Wilcoxon P = .028) did not translate to a longer-term benefit in PFS, the primary study end point (log-rank P = .121). There was also no difference in survival between both study arms.
Exemestane is an effective and well-tolerated first-line hormonal treatment for postmenopausal women with MBC and offers significant early improvement in time to tumor progression when compared with tamoxifen.
Extended adjuvant endocrine therapy for breast cancer with aromatase inhibitors may potentially alter the lipid profile of postmenopausal patients and thus increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In this study, a subprotocol of the ATENA (Adjuvant post-Tamoxifen Exemestane versus Nothing Applied) trial, we compared the effect of the steroidal aromatase inactivator exemestane on the lipid profile of postmenopausal patients with operable breast cancer, in the adjuvant setting, with that of observation alone after completion of 5 to 7 years of primary treatment with tamoxifen.
In this open-label, randomized, parallel-group study, 411 postmenopausal patients with operable breast cancer, who had been treated with tamoxifen for 5 to 7 years, were randomized to either 5 additional years of exemestane (25 mg/day; n = 211) or observation only (n = 200). Assessments of total cholesterol (TC), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and total serum triglycerides (TRG) were performed at baseline and then during each follow-up visit, performed at either 6 or 12 months, according to the center's clinical practice, until completing 24 months in the study.
TC and LDL levels increased significantly across time for both arms; TC increase was more pronounced for the observation arm, and that was sustained up to 24 months. HDL levels decreased significantly across time for the exemestane arm, whereas no significant change was detected across time for the observation arm. Triglyceride levels decreased significantly across time on both arms, with no difference detected in changes from baseline between the exemestane and the observation arms.
Exemestane lacks the beneficial effect of tamoxifen on lipids; however, sequential adjuvant treatment with exemestane in postmenopausal breast cancer patients after cessation of 5 to 7 years of tamoxifen does not appear to alter the lipid profile significantly compared with that of an observational arm.
ClinicalTrials.gov ID: NCT00810706.
Medical studies have shown that switching to exemestane after 2-3 years of adjuvant treatment with tamoxifen is effective when looking at overall survival. No cost effectiveness study of exemestane has been conducted in the German health care context.
Patients and Methods
To assess the cost effectiveness of switching to exemestane vs. continued tamoxifen therapy for early-stage breast cancer, a Markov model was developed. The model population was set as postmenopausal women who are in remission from early-stage breast cancer. Upon model entry, either a continuing daily therapy with 20 mg tamoxifen or a switch to 25 mg exemestane for the next 2-3 years takes place. The model takes a German health care perspective.
The total incremental costs of exemestane on a lifetime basis are 4,195 Euro, resulting in an incremental cost effectiveness ratio of 17,632 Euro per additional quality-adjusted life year (QALY), or 16,857 Euro per life year gained. Incremental costs per disease-free year of survival are 12,851 Euro. Probabilistic sensitivity analyses proved the robustness of these findings.
Compared to extended tamoxifen therapy, switching to exemestane after 2-3 years turned out to be a cost-effective strategy in adjuvant therapy for early-stage breast cancer in postmenopausal women within the German health care context.
Aromatase inhibitors; Postmenopause; Cost effectiveness; Breast cancer; Early stage
Exemestane, a steroidal aromatase inhibitor, is licensed for postmenopausal patients with estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer as second-line therapy in metastatic disease following antiestrogen failure and as part of sequential adjuvant therapy following initial tamoxifen. This study is a systematic literature review, evaluating exemestane in different clinical settings. The Ovid Medline (1948–2012), Embase (1980–2012), and Web of Science (1899–2012) databases were searched. Forty-two relevant articles covering randomized controlled trials were reviewed for efficacy and safety, and three for adherence. With regard to efficacy in metastatic disease, exemestane is superior to megestrol acetate after progression on tamoxifen. There is evidence for noninferiority to fulvestrant (following a prior aromatase inhibitor) and to nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitors in the first-line setting. Combined use with everolimus is shown to be more efficacious than exemestane alone following previous aromatase inhibitor use. In the adjuvant setting, a switch to exemestane after 2–3 years of tamoxifen is superior to 5 years of tamoxifen. Exemestane is noninferior to 5 years of tamoxifen as upfront therapy, and may have a role as an extended adjuvant therapy. Used as neoadjuvant therapy, increased breast conservation is achievable. As chemoprevention, exemestane significantly reduces the incidence of breast cancer in “at-risk” postmenopausal women. Exemestane is associated with myalgias and arthralgias, as well as reduced bone mineral density and increased risk of fracture, which do not appear to persist at follow-up, with subsequent return to pretreatment values. Compared with tamoxifen, there is a reduced incidence of endometrial changes, thromboembolic events, and hot flashes. Limited evidence shows nonadherence in 23%–32% of patients. Evidence is growing in support of exemestane in all clinical settings. It is generally more efficacious and has a better safety profile than tamoxifen. How it compares with the nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitors remains to be established. Further studies are required on adherence to ensure that maximum benefit is obtained.
breast cancer; exemestane; review; adherence; metastatic; adjuvant
Tamoxifen (TAM) is a selective estrogen-receptor modulator that is widely used in the prevention and treatment of estrogen-receptor–positive breast cancer. Its use has significantly contributed to a decline in breast cancer mortality, since breast cancer patients treated with TAM for 5 years exhibit a 30–50% reduction in both the rate of disease recurrence after 10 years of patient follow-up and in the occurrence of contralateral breast cancer. However, in patients treated with TAM, there is substantial interindividual variability in the development of resistance to TAM therapy and in the incidence of TAM-induced adverse events, including deep-vein thrombosis, hot flashes, and the development of endometrial cancer. Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) have emerged as a viable alternative to TAM, working by inhibiting aromatase activity and blocking estrone/estrodiol biosynthesis in postmenopausal women. The current third-generation AIs, anastrozole, exemestane, and letrozole, were used initially for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, demonstrating similar or greater benefit but less toxicity, compared with TAM, and are now being employed as adjuvant treatment for early breast cancer in postmenopausal women. This article will focus on the UDP-glucuronosyltransferases, a family of metabolizing enzymes that play an important role in the deactivation and clearance of TAM, anastrazole, and exemestane, and how interindividual differences in these enzymes may play a role in patient response to these agents.
Breast cancer; tamoxifen; aromatase inhibitors; exemestane; anastrazole; UDP-glucuronosyltransferase; glucuronidation; metabolism; pharmacogenetics
The strategy of using estrogen suppression to treat breast cancer led to the development of aromatase inhibitors, including the third-generation nonsteroidal compounds anastrozole and letrozole, and the steroidal compound exemestane. Aromatase inhibitors potently inhibit aromatase activity and also suppress estrogen levels in plasma and tissue. In clinical studies in postmenopausal women with breast cancer, third-generation aromatase inhibitors were shown superior to tamoxifen for the treatment of metastatic disease. Studies of adjuvant therapy with aromatase inhibitors include (i) head-to-head studies of 5 years of the aromatase inhibitor versus 5 years of tamoxifen monotherapy; (ii) sequential therapy of 2–3 years of tamoxifen followed by an aromatase inhibitor (or the opposite sequence) versus 5 years of tamoxifen monotherapy; (iii) extended therapy with an aromatase inhibitor after 5 years of tamoxifen; and (iv) sequential therapy with an aromatase inhibitor versus aromatase inhibitor monotherapy. Recent results from the Arimidex, Tamoxifen, Alone or in Combination and Breast International Group 1–98 trials advocate using an aromatase inhibitor upfront. This article examines the clinical data with aromatase inhibitors, following a brief summary of their pharmacology.
anastrozole; aromatase inhibitor; breast cancer; estrogen; exemestane; letrozole
There is overwhelming evidence that optimal adjuvant endocrine therapy for hormone sensitive breast cancer in postmenopausal women should include a third generation aromatase inhibitor (AI). On current evidence, adjuvant anstrozole or letrozole should be used upfront in such patients especially in those with high risk disease (node positive and/or tumours > 2 cm). The sequential approach of tamoxifen for 2–3 years followed by exemestane or anastrozole for 2–3 years is a reasonable alternative to 5 years of AI monotherapy in patients with low risk disease (node negative and tumour smaller than 2 cm) especially if the tumour is positive for estrogen and progesterone receptors.
Node-positive patients completing 5 years of adjuvant tamoxifen should be offered letrozole for up 48 months. Further research is required to establish the long-term cardiovascular safety of AIs especially that of letrozole and exmestane, the optimal AI to use, duration of AI therapy and whether monotherapy with an AI for 5 years is superior to sequencing an AI after 2–3 years of tamoxifen.
The bone mineral density (BMD) should be measured at baseline and monitored during therapy in women being treated with AIs. Anti-osteoporosis agents should such as bisphosphonates should be considered in patients at high risk of bone fractures.
Recent studies have shown that administering the aromatase inhibitor exemestane after 2–3 years of tamoxifen therapy significantly improves disease-free survival in postmenopausal women with primary breast cancer in comparison with standard 5-year tamoxifen treatment. Although many of the adverse effects associated with exemestane and tamoxifen have been analysed, there are no comparative data concerning body weight and body composition. The aim of this randomised study was to evaluate the longitudinal changes in body composition and lipid profiles in postmenopausal women switched from tamoxifen to exemestane. In total, 60 overweight or obese postmenopausal patients were enrolled. Their anthropometric data, body composition, including fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM), and lipid profiles, caloric intake and physical activity were assessed 1 week before randomisation, and 6 and 12 months later. In all, 55 patients (27 on tamoxifen and 28 on exemestane) completed the 1-year study period. Fat mass had significantly decreased by month 12 in the exemestane, but not in the tamoxifen group; the between-group difference was statistically significant (P<0.01). The FFM/FM ratio had significantly increased in the exemestane group, but not the tamoxifen group; the between-group difference was statistically significant (P<0.05). Triglycerides and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol significantly decreased (P<0.01; P<0.05), and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol significantly increased (P<0.01) in the exemestane group at the end of the 1-year study period. Our findings suggest that switching patients to adjuvant exemestane treatment after at least 2 years of tamoxifen therapy may be associated with an advantage over continuing adjuvant tamoxifen treatment in terms of body composition.
body weight; exemestane; hormonal therapy; lipid; tamoxifen
Tamoxifen had been the only available hormonal option for the systemic treatment for breast cancer from 1979–2000. Enormous efforts have led to the development of potent and selective third generation aromatase inhibitors including anastrozole, letrozole and exemestane. Due to their superior efficacy to tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors are presently approved as first line agents for the treatment of advanced estrogen receptor (ER) positive breast cancer and adjuvant therapy in early ER positive early breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Selective ER Modulators (SERMS), tamoxifen and raloxifene are the only agents presently used in breast cancer prevention in high risk women and their use has increased substantially over the last decade. Third generations SERMS, lasofoxifene and bazedoxifene have shown significant reduction in bone loss compared to placebo in postmenopausal women and are currently approved in the European Union for the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. This review outlines the current strategies employed in the use of endocrine therapy in the management and prevention of breast cancer.
Selective estrogen receptor modulator; Tamoxifen; Aromatase Inhibitors; Estrogen Receptor
The third-generation aromatase inhibitors (AIs) letrozole, anastrozole, and exemestane are replacing tamoxifen as adjuvant therapy in most postmenopausal women with early breast cancer. Although AIs have demonstrated superior efficacy and better overall safety compared with tamoxifen in randomized controlled trials, they may not provide the cardioprotective effects of tamoxifen, and bone loss may be a concern with their long-term adjuvant use. Patients require regular bone mineral density monitoring, and prophylactic bisphosphonates are being evaluated to determine whether they may protect long-term bone health. AIs decrease the risks of thromboembolic and cerebrovascular events compared with tamoxifen, and the overall rate of cardiovascular events in patients treated with AIs is within the range seen in age-matched, non-breast-cancer populations. AIs are also associated with a lower incidence of endometrial cancer and fewer vaginal bleeding/discharge events than tamoxifen. Compared with tamoxifen, the incidence of hot flashes is lower with anastrozole and letrozole but may be higher with exemestane. Generally, adverse events with AIs are predictable and manageable, whereas tamoxifen may be associated with life-threatening events in a minority of patients. Overall, the benefits of AIs over tamoxifen are achieved without compromising overall quality of life.
Adjuvant therapy; Aromatase inhibitors; Early breast cancer; Letrozole; Safety
Aromatase inhibition is the gold standard for treatment of early and advanced breast cancer in postmenopausal women suffering from an estrogen receptor-positive disease. The currently established group of anti-aromatase compounds comprises two reversible aromatase inhibitors (anastrozole and letrozole) and on the other hand, the irreversible aromatase inactivator exemestane. Although exemestane is the only widely used aromatase inactivator at this stage, physicians very often have to choose between either anastrozole or letrozole in general practice. These third-generation aromatase inhibitors (letrozole/Femara (Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Basel, Switzerland) and anastrozole/Arimidex (AstraZeneca, Pharmaceuticals, Macclesfield, Cheshire, UK)), have recently demonstrated superior efficacy compared with tamoxifen as initial therapy for early breast cancer improving disease-free survival. However, although anastrozole and letrozole belong to the same pharmacological class of agents (triazoles), an increasing body of evidence suggests that these aromatase inhibitors are not equipotent when given in the clinically established doses. Preclinical and clinical evidence indicates distinct pharmacological profiles. Thus, this review focuses on the differences between the non-steroidal aromatase inhibitors allowing physicians to choose between these compounds based on scientific evidence. Although we are waiting for the important results of a still ongoing head-to-head comparison in patients with early breast cancer at high risk for relapse (Femara Anastrozole Clinical Evaluation trial; ‘FACE-trial'), clinicians have to make their choices today. On the basis of available evidence summarised here and until FACE-data become available, letrozole seems to be the best choice for the majority of breast cancer patients whenever a non-steroidal aromatase inhibitor has to be chosen in a clinical setting. The background for this recommendation is discussed in the following chapters.
aromatase inhibitors; breast cancer; anastrozole; letrozole; exemestane
The third-generation aromatase inhibitors (AIs), letrozole, anastrozole and exemestane, are becoming the first choice endocrine drugs for post-menopausal women with breast cancer, since they present greater efficacy when compared with tamoxifen in both adjuvant and metastatic setting. In particular, several large and well designed trials have suggested an important role for AIs in the adjuvant treatment of postmenopausal women with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer either in the upfront, sequential or extended adjuvant mode. Overall, AIs are associated with a small but significant improvement in disease free survival. The expanding use of AIs in the treatment of early breast cancer means that individual patients will be exposed to the agents for longer durations, making it increasingly important to establish their long-term safety. This review focused on the effects of AIs on bone metabolism, serum lipids and cardiovascular risk. AIs have adverse effects on bone turnover with a reduction of bone mineral density and an increase in the rate of fragility fractures. With respect to tamoxifen AIs present lower thrombotic risk and a less favorable impact on lipid profile, whereas the true effects on cardiovascular risk still remain to be clarified. An adequate monitoring of bone mineral density (BMD) and lipid profile could be recommended for post-menopausal women candidate to AIs.
breast cancer; aromatase inhibitors; bone loss; lipids; cardiovascular risk
The aromatase inhibitors exemestane and anastrozole are approved in Japan for first-line treatment of postmenopausal patients with advanced, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. This phase 3, randomized, double-blind study directly compared time to progression (TTP) for exemestane and anastrozole therapy in this patient population. Eligible patients were randomized to receive exemestane 25 mg or anastrozole 1 mg, each once daily. The primary endpoint was TTP based on assessment by an expert radiologic images review committee (ERIRC). Secondary endpoints included investigator-assessed TTP, time to treatment failure, overall survival, objective response rate, clinical benefit rate, and safety. A total 298 patients were randomized to receive exemestane (n = 149; mean age 63.4 years) or anastrozole (n = 149; mean age 64.0 years). Median ERIRC-assessed TTP was 13.8 and 11.1 months (hazard ratio = 1.007; 95 % confidence interval [CI]: 0.771, 1.317) and median investigator-assessed TTP was 13.8 and 13.7 months (hazard ratio = 1.059; 95 % CI: 0.816, 1.374) in the exemestane and anastrozole arms, respectively. Median overall survival was 60.1 months in the anastrozole arm and was not reached in the exemestane arm at data cutoff. The objective response rate was 43.9 % (95 % CI: 35.3, 52.8) and 39.1 % (95 % CI: 30.6, 48.1) in the exemestane and anastrozole arms, respectively. Treatment-related adverse events grade ≥3 occurred in 9.4 and 6.0 % of patients, and treatment-related serious adverse events occurred in 4.0 and 3.4 % of patients in the exemestane and anastrozole arms, respectively. In this study, the efficacy and safety profiles of exemestane were similar to those of anastrozole in Japanese patients with advanced, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer; however, TTP non-inferiority of exemestane versus anastrozole was not confirmed.
Exemestane; Anastrozole; Advanced breast cancer; Hormone receptor; Postmenopausal breast cancer; Plasma lipoprotein
The Tamoxifen and Exemestane Adjuvant Multinational (TEAM) trial included a prospectively planned pathology substudy testing the predictive value of progesterone receptor (PgR) expression for outcome of estrogen receptor–positive (ER-positive) early breast cancer treated with exemestane versus tamoxifen.
Patients and Methods
Pathology blocks from 4,781 TEAM patients randomly assigned to exemestane versus tamoxifen followed by exemestane for 5 years of total therapy were collected centrally, and tissue microarrays were constructed from samples from 4,598 patients. Quantitative analysis of hormone receptors (ER and PgR) was performed by using image analysis and immunohistochemistry, and the results were linked to outcome data from the main TEAM trial and analyzed relative to disease-free survival and treatment.
Of 4,325 eligible ER-positive patients, 23% were PgR-poor (Allred < 4) and 77% were PgR- rich (Allred ≥ 5). No treatment-by-marker effect for PgR was observed for exemestane versus tamoxifen (PgR-rich hazard ratio [HR], 0.83; 95% CI, 0.65 to 1.05; PgR-poor HR, 0.85; 95% CI, 0.61 to 1.19; P = .88 for interaction). Both PgR and ER expression were associated with patient prognosis in univariate (PgR HR, 0.53; 95% CI, 0.43 to 0.65; P < .001; ER HR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.51 to 0.86; P = .002), and multivariate analyses (P < .001 and P = .001, respectively). A trend toward a treatment-by-marker effect for ER-rich patients was observed.
Preferential exemestane versus tamoxifen treatment benefit was not predicted by PgR expression; conversely, patients with ER-rich tumors may derive additional benefit from exemestane. Quantitative analysis of ER and PgR expression provides highly significant information on risk of early relapse (within 1 to 3 years) during treatment.
Tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors are associated with side effects which can significantly impact quality of life (QoL). We assessed QoL in the Tamoxifen Exemestane Adjuvant Multinational (TEAM) Trial and compared these data with reported adverse events in the main database. 2,754 Dutch postmenopausal early breast cancer patients were randomized between 5 years of exemestane, or tamoxifen (2.5–3 years) followed by exemestane (2.5–2 years). 742 patients were invited to participate in the QoL side study and complete questionnaires at 1 (T1) and 2 (T2) years after start of endocrine treatment. Questionnaires comprised the EORTC QLQ-C30 and BR23 questionnaires, supplemented with FACT-ES questions. 543 patients completed questionnaires at T1 and 454 patients (84 %) at T2. Overall QoL and most functioning scales improved over time. The only clinically relevant and statistically significant difference between treatment types concerned insomnia; exemestane-treated patients reported more insomnia than tamoxifen-treated patients. Discrepancy was observed between QoL issue scores reported by the patients and adverse events reported by physicians. Certain QoL issues are treatment- and/or time-specific and deserve attention by health care providers. There is a need for careful inquiry into QoL issues by those prescribing endocrine treatment to optimize QoL and treatment adherence.
Adverse effects; Breast cancer; Exemestane; Quality of life; Tamoxifen
The adjuvant treatment of women with endocrine-sensitive early breast cancer has been dominated for the last 40 years by tamoxifen. However, the side-effects associated with this therapy have prompted a search for safer and biochemically more selective endocrine agents and led to the development of the third-generation aromatase inhibitors (AIs) anastrozole, letrozole and exemestane. Promising results in advanced disease have paved the way for treating early breast cancer, and AIs are increasingly replacing tamoxifen in the adjuvant setting. Several large, randomized trials with AIs have been completed or are ongoing in women with early-stage breast cancer, documenting the significant impact that these drugs are making on the risk for recurrence of breast cancer. As a result, there is increasing and widespread use of AI therapy for the treatment of early-stage endocrine-responsive breast cancer. This review summarizes the data for exemestane in the adjuvant setting, showing that a switch to exemestane after 2 to 3 years of tamoxifen therapy is associated with a statistically significant survival benefit and is regarded as being sensitive by international and national experts.
early breast cancer; adjuvant setting; endocrine-sensitive; tamoxifen; aromatase inhibitor; exemestane; switch; IES 31; NSABP B-33; TEAM
The third-generation aromatase inhibitors (AIs) anastrozole, exemestane and letrozole have largely replaced tamoxifen as the preferred treatment for hormone receptor – positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Approximately 185,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed yearly, and at least half of these women are both postmenopausal and eligible for adjuvant therapy with AIs. In addition, AIs are currently being tested as primary prevention therapy in large randomised trials involving tens of thousands of women at increased risk for breast cancer. Given the volume of use, internists will increasingly see postmenopausal women who are taking or considering treatment with AIs. Physicians need to be able to: (i) briefly discuss the pros and cons of using a selective estrogen receptor modulator such as tamoxifen or raloxifene vs. an AI for risk reduction and (ii) recognise and manage AI-associated adverse events. The primary purpose of this review is to help internists with these two tasks.
Review CriteriaExpert opinion based on review of literature on relevant clinical trials.Message for the ClinicBoth tamoxifen and AIs are effective for the adjuvant and neoadjuvant treatment of postmenopausal breast cancer; the optimal choice of drug is dependent on the characteristics of the patient and tumour. Adverse events with both drug classes are manageable. Adverse events associated with tamoxifen include increased risk of uterine cancers and thromboembolic events vs. an increased incidence of vaginal dryness, loss of libido, musculoskeletal pain and bone mineral density loss with AIs. Promising studies of AIs in the breast cancer prevention setting are ongoing.
Following promising data for metastatic breast cancer in terms of efficacy and safety profile, third-generation aromatase inhibitors (AI), anastrozole, letrozole, and exemestane, underwent a full development in early setting. If recent results consistently show the superiority of these agents over tamoxifen, the therapeutic strategies of AIs in adjuvant setting are still debated. Beyond the choice of clinical strategy, the long duration of exposure to AI in adjuvant setting required a full determination of the long-term toxicity profile of these agents. While all three AIs have either favorable (decreased incidence of hot flashes, gynecologic and thromboembolic side-effects) or unfavorable (skeletal complications, arthralgia, musculoskeletal pain, sexual dysfunction) class adverse events, some variability between AIs has been reported in side-effects as well as gastrointestinal, urogenital, neurologic, and visual disturbances, confirming the lack of interchangeability between the three AIs. The overall therapeutic index of AIs appears today superior to that of tamoxifen with proven improved efficacy and better toxicity profile. This review will explore the results from the available adjuvant AIs trials with a particular emphasis on safety profiles, quality of life, and therapeutic index, helping to define the present role of AIs in the adjuvant management of postmenopausal patients with breast cancer.
breast cancer; aromatase inhibitors; adjuvant; safety profile
Exemestane was approved in 2005 for adjuvant treatment of breast cancer. In this study, we aimed to assess whether it is cost-effective in comparison to available alternatives.
Material and methods
To evaluate the efficacy of exemestane, a systematic review was conducted by searching electronic databases. The outcomes of interest were “clinical benefit”, “overall response” and “disease-free survival rate”. To evaluate the cost of treatments, costs of both domestic generic and imported brand medicines were taken into account, and the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) was calculated for each comparison.
Regarding primary breast cancer, based upon available evidence, exemestane could not be considered as a cost-effective medicine either in generic or brand form compared with placebo (ICER: 119,100 and 215,525), with tamoxifen after 2-3 years of therapy (ICER: 35,150 and 82,400) and with sequential treatment by tamoxifen and exemestane (dominated because of lower effectiveness and higher cost). In metastatic breast cancer, exemestane was not considered a cost-effective treatment compared with both anastrozole and megestrol acetate (dominated) and was highly cost-effective compared with tamoxifen (ICERs: 2,208 and 4,326 dollars per one more patient with an overall response for generic and brand medicines) although even in this case it was not cost-effective in terms of the 1-year survival rates (dominated).
Regarding current evidence and related costs in terms of Iranian pharmaceutical market prices, exemestane could not be considered a cost-effective treatment in primary and advanced breast cancer compared with available alternatives. However, more evidence is still needed for more certain decisions.
systematic review; cost-effectiveness; anastrozole; letrozole; megestrol acetate; exemestane; evidence based medicine
Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in women. Regardless of prognosis, all women with breast cancer are at risk for early recurrence. Nearly 50% of early recurrences occur within 5 years of surgery, and they peak at 2 years after surgery in women treated with adjuvant tamoxifen. Most early recurrences are distant metastases, which strongly correlate with increased mortality. Treatments that mitigate the risk of early distant metastases (DM) are, therefore, likely to improve overall survival in women with early breast cancer (EBC). Aromatase inhibitors (AIs)—anastrozole, letrozole, and exemestane—have been investigated as alternatives to tamoxifen for adjuvant treatment of hormone receptor-positive (HR+) EBC in postmenopausal women (PMW). AIs are better at minimizing risk of early relapse compared with tamoxifen. However, it is not clear if preferential use of AIs over tamoxifen will benefit all PMW with HR+ EBC. The ability to subtype HR+ breast cancer on the basis of biomarkers predictive of response to AIs and tamoxifen would likely be key to determining the most beneficial hormonal treatment within patient subpopulations, but this process requires thorough investigation. Until then, adjuvant therapies that provide the greatest reduction in risk of DM should be considered for all PMW with HR+ EBC. This article reviews the clinical trials of AI adjuvant therapies for hormone-sensitive breast cancer, particularly in the context of how they compare with tamoxifen in minimizing the risk of relapse, occurrence of DM, and breast cancer-related deaths.
Aromatase inhibitors; Distant metastasis; Anastrozole; Letrozole; Exemestane; Tamoxifen
Endocrine therapy in the setting of breast cancer has undoubtedly advanced clinical outcomes in this disease, but treatment with endocrine therapy is accompanied by a wide spectrum of side effects. It is of prime importance to understand and characterize these toxicities to facilitate clinical decision-making. Somewhat surprisingly, there is a relative paucity of data pertaining to cognitive changes associated with endocrine therapy. In this article we review cognitive associated with two classes of endocrine therapy: (1) selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs; tamoxifen and raloxifene) and (2) aromatase inhibitors (AIs; anastrozole, letrozole, and exemestane). Companion studies to the Multiple Outcome of Raloxifene Evaluation (MORE), the Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene (STAR) and National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) P-1 trials provide relevant data to understand the effect of SERMs on cognition. In contrast, substudies of the Arimidex, Taxmoxifen Alone or in Combination (ATAC), Tamoxifen and Exemestane Adjuvant Multinational (TEAM) and Breast International Group (BIG) 1–98 trials juxtapose cognitive effects of AIs against those of tamoxifen. These and other studies are examined herein to provide a comprehensive overview of the effect of endocrine therapy on cognition.
Many studies about the adjuvant endocrine therapy of postmenopausal patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer have shown significant superiority of aromatase inhibitors (AIs) compared to tamoxifen only. Within these studies, different AIs (anastrozole, letrozole, exemestane) and treatment strategies (upfront, switch, extended adjuvant) were applied.
Material and Methods
The intention of our enquiry was to evaluate the implementation of the results of these studies in German breast cancer centers and university hospitals. Questionnaires were sent to 200 breast cancer centers and university hospitals (returns: 108).
Our enquiry showed that most centers preferred anastrozole as upfront therapy in patients with an intermediate or high risk of relapse. Furthermore, during AI therapy, additional bisphosphonate treatment was applied ‘always’ in only 9% of cases, and in 78% of cases of proved osteopenia/osteoporosis. Surprisingly, 50% of the participating centers do not exclude AIs in premenopausal women.
At the time of our enquiry, anastrozole as upfront therapy was consistent with the recommendations of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Gynäkologische Onkologie (AGO) from 2009. Compared to tamoxifen, AIs increase the risk of osteoporosis, which can, however, be prevented and treated with concomitant bisphosphonate therapy. The rare use of bisphosphonates as well as contraindicated AI therapy in premenopausal patients show amongst others the substantial need for more information.
Breast cancer; Endocrine therapy; Aromatase inhibitors
Within breast tissue, aromatase expression and activity is increased by prostaglandin E2, providing a rationale for combining the COX-2 inhibitor celecoxib with an aromatase inhibitor. To evaluate the effect of these drugs on aromatase and other biomarkers, a phase II trial of neoadjuvant exemestane followed sequentially by celecoxib plus exemestane was performed.
Postmenopausal women with estrogen receptor (ER) and/or progesterone (PR) positive stages II-III breast cancers received 8 weeks of exemestane 25 mg daily, followed by 8 weeks of exemestane 25 mg daily and celecoxib 400 mg twice daily. Core biopsies were collected pretreatment, after 8 weeks of exemestane, and at definitive breast cancer surgery. A tissue microarray was constructed and immunohistochemistry (IHC) for aromatase, ER, PR, HER-2, Ki-67, and COX-2 was performed.
Twenty-two women were enrolled. Celecoxib was discontinued in 4 (18%) women for toxicity (all grade 1 and 2) and 2 (9%) developed serious cardiac events occurring at 1 and 4 months after completing treatment. By US, there were 8 (36%)-partial responses and 12 (55%)-stable disease. There were no pathological complete responses (pCR). There were statistically significant decreases in ER (P = .003), PR (P = .002), Ki-67 (P < .001), and COX-2 (P = .004) expression. No significant differences in aromatase or HER-2 expression were observed (P = .13 and P = .39, respectively).
The addition of celecoxib to exemestane was tolerated by the majority of women and anti-tumor response was observed. Additional studies, including gene expression, are required to more fully understand the basis for the decreased expression of ER, PR, Ki-67, and COX-2.
Celecoxib; COX-2 inhibitor; Estrogen receptor; Exemestane; Ki-67; Neoadjuvant