, Volume 67, Issue 10, pp 1393-1401
Date: 14 Sep 2012

Treatment of Premenopausal Women with Early Breast Cancer

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Breast cancer occurring in women before the age of menopause continues to be a major medical and psychological challenge. Endocrine therapy has emerged as the mainstay of adjuvant treatment for women with estrogen receptor-positive tumours. Although the suppression of ovarian function (by oophorectomy, irradiation of the ovaries or gonadotropin releasing factor analogues) is effective as adjuvant therapy if used alone, its value has not been proven after chemotherapy. This is presumably because of the frequent occurrence of chemotherapy-induced amenorrhoea. Tamoxifen reduces the risk of recurrence by approximately 40%, irrespective of age and the ovarian production of estrogens. The worth of ovarian function suppression in combination with tamoxifen is unproven and is being investigated in an intergroup randomised clinical trial (SOFT [Suppression of Ovarian Function Trial]). Aromatase inhibitors are more effective than tamoxifen in postmenopausal women but are only being investigated in younger patients. The use of chemotherapies is identical in younger and older patients; however, at present the efficacy of chemotherapy in addition to ovarian function suppression plus tamoxifen is unknown in premenopausal patients with endocrine responsive disease. ‘Targeted’ therapies such as monoclonal antibodies to human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER)-2, HER1 and vascular endothelial growth factor, ‘small molecule’ inhibitors of tyrosine kinases and breast cancer vaccines are rapidly emerging. Their use depends on the function of the targeted pathways and is presently limited to clinical trials. Premenopausal patients are best treated in the framework of a clinical trial.