Duration of Extended Adjuvant Letrozole after Tamoxifen in Postmenopausal Women with Early Stage Breast Cancer

SUMMARY: Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the US and about 1 in 8 women (12%) will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Approximately 284,200 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2021 and about 44,130 individuals will die of the disease, largely due to metastatic recurrence.

Approximately 75% of patients with breast cancer are Hormone Receptor (HR) – positive (Estrogen Receptor/Progesterone Receptor positive), and this is a predictor of response to endocrine therapy. In premenopausal woman, the ovary is the main source of estrogen production, whereas in postmenopausal women, the primary source of estrogen is the Aromatase enzyme mediated conversion of androstenedione and testosterone to estrone and estradiol in extragonadal/peripheral tissues.

It has been well established that treatment with 5 years of endocrine therapy in early stage, HR-positive breast cancer, significantly reduces the risks of locoregional and distant recurrence, contralateral breast cancer, death from breast cancer, and therefore death from any cause. Extended adjuvant endocrine therapy with either Tamoxifen or an Aromatase Inhibitor (AI) beyond 5 years can further reduce breast cancer recurrence. This however can result in treatment related side effects. Therefore, when considering extended adjuvant endocrine therapy beyond 5 years, the potential benefits should be weighed against the associated risk with such therapy. The absolute benefit of continuing endocrine therapy after 5 years depends on the absolute risk of later recurrence, if patient’s receives no further therapy.

Third generation Aromatase Inhibitors (AIs), including Anastrozole, Exemestane and Letrozole, have demonstrated improved efficacy, when compared to Tamoxifen, for the adjuvant endocrine treatment of postmenopausal patients with HR-positive breast cancer. Randomized trials such as the Intergroup Exemestane Study have shown improvements in Disease Free Survival (DFS) among patients who after 2-3 years on Tamoxifen treatment switch to Exemestane for the remainder of a 5-year endocrine treatment period, with a modest improvement in Overall Survival (OS). Whether there is added benefit by extending Aromatase Inhibitor therapy beyond 5 years has remained controversial.

The present study was conducted to compare extended therapy with Letrozole for 5 years versus the standard duration of 2-3 years of Letrozole, in postmenopausal patients with breast cancer, who had already received 2-3 years of Tamoxifen. This multicentre, open-label, randomized, Phase III trial included 2056 postmenopausal women patients with Stage I-III operable, invasive, HR-positive breast cancer, who had received adjuvant Tamoxifen therapy for at least 2 years but no longer than 3 years and 3 months, and had no signs of recurrent disease. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1) to receive Letrozole 2.5 mg orally once a day for 2-3 years (control group; N=1030) or Letrozole 2.5 mg orally once a day for 5 years (extended group; N=1026). Approximately 41% of patients had node-positive disease, 21% had Grade 3 tumors, 6% had HER2-positive disease and 55% had prior chemotherapy. The median duration of treatment with adjuvant Tamoxifen was about 2.5 years. The Primary endpoint was invasive Disease Free Survival. Safety analysis was done for patients who received at least 1 month of study treatment. About 80% of patients in the control group and 63% in the extended treatment group completed treatment. The median duration of Letrozole treatment was 5.0 years in the extended treatment group and 2.4 years in the control group. About 16% of patients in the extended treatment group and 11.7% in the control group received bisphosphonate treatment respectively.

After a median follow-up of 11.7 years, the 12-year Disease Free Survival was 62% in the control group and 67% in the extended treatment group (HR=0.78; P=0.0064). This benefit was seen across all patient subgroups. The Overall Survival was also significantly improved at 12 years, and was 84% in the control group versus 88% in the extended treatment group (HR=0.77; P=0.036).

With regards to Adverse Events, there was a slightly higher incidence of arthralgia, myalgia and osteoporosis in the extended treatment group, but there was no significant difference observed between the groups in the incidence of Skeletal Related Events.

It was concluded from this landmark study that, in postmenopausal patients with breast cancer who received 2-3 years of Tamoxifen, extended treatment with 5 years of Letrozole resulted in a significant improvement in Disease Free Survival, compared with the standard 2-3 years of Letrozole. The authors added that sequential endocrine therapy with Tamoxifen for 2-3 years followed by Letrozole for 5 years should be considered as one of the optimal standard endocrine treatments for postmenopausal patients with Hormone Receptor-positive breast cancer.

Extended therapy with letrozole as adjuvant treatment of postmenopausal patients with early-stage breast cancer: a multicentre, open-label, randomised, phase 3 trial. Del Mastro L, Mansutti M, Bisagni G, et al. Lancet Oncology. Published: September 17, 2021. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(21)00352-1