Aromatase a cytochrome P-450 enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of androgens to estrogens, is the major mechanism of estrogen synthesis in the post-menopausal woman. We review some of the recent scientific advances which shed light on the biologic significance, physiology, expression and regulation of aromatase in breast tissue. Inhibition of aromatase, the terminal step in estrogen biosynthesis, provides a way of treating hormone- dependent breast cancer in older patients. Aminoglutethimide was the first widely used aromatase inhibitor but had several clinical drawbacks. Newer agents are considerably more selective, more potent, less toxic and easier to use in the clinical setting. This article reviews the clinical data supporting the use of the potent, oral competitive aromatase inhibitors anastrozole, letrozole and vorozole and the irreversible inhibitors 4-OH androstenedione and exemestane. The more potent compounds inhibit both peripheral and intra-tumoral aromatase. We discuss the evidence supporting the notion that aromatase inhibitors lack cross-resistance with antiestrogens and suggest that the newer, more potent compounds may have a particular application in breast cancer treatment in a setting of adaptive hypersensitivity to estrogens. Currently available aromatase inhibitors are safe and effective in the management of hormone-dependent breast cancer in post-menopausal women failing antiestrogen therapy and should now be used before progestational agents. There is abundant evidence to support testing these compounds as first-line hormonal therapy for metastatic breast cancer as well as part of adjuvant regimens in older patients and quite possibly in chemoprevention trials of breast cancer.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Cancer Research