Marie E. Wood, MD

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Selecting Adjuvant Endocrine Therapy for Breast Cancer

December 1st 2004

This year alone, more than 215,000 women in the United States will bediagnosed with, and over 40,000 will die from, invasive breast cancer.Recently, mortality from female breast cancer has declined despite anincrease in its incidence. This decline corresponds with improved screeningfor prompt tumor detection, and advances in the treatment of earlydisease. Of these, endocrine therapy has played a prominent role. Forwomen with estrogen receptor (ER)-positive and/or progesterone receptor(PR)-positive breast cancers, endocrine therapy has proven to be amajor component of adjuvant therapy, but it is not effective in womenwhose breast cancers lack ERs and PRs. The selective estrogen-receptormodulator (SERM) tamoxifen has been well established as safe and effectivein the adjuvant care of both pre- and postmenopausal women withhormone-receptor–positive early breast cancer. For premenopausalwomen, ovarian suppression is an important option to be considered.Additionally, the aromatase inhibitors have recently demonstrated utilityin postmenopausal women. The ideal sequencing of treatment withtamoxifen and/or an aromatase inhibitor is the subject of several ongoingstudies. Factors involved in selecting an appropriate endocrine regimenhave grown considerably over the past decade. It is becoming more importantfor those caring for women with breast cancer to fully understandthe available endocrine treatment options and the prognostic and predictivefactors available to help select the most appropriate treatment. Thegoal of this article is to assist clinicians in making decisions regardingadjuvant hormonal therapy and to provide information regarding availableclinical trials. To achieve this, the therapeutic options for hormonaltherapy will be reviewed, as will prognostic and predictive factors used inmaking decisions. Finally, four cases illustrating these difficult decisionswill be discussed, with recommendations for treatment.