Microsomal cytochrome P450 (CYP 450) enzyme aromatase belongs to CYP 19 super family. It is involved in the conversion of androgens to estrogens. In postmenopausal women the main sites of aromatisation are skin, adipose tissue and breast. Aromatase localized in breast tumor produces sufficient estrogen for its proliferation. Hence it is an important target for the treatment of hormone dependent breast cancer in postmenopausal women. There are mainly two types of aromatase inhibitors, one is steroidal another is nonsteroidal type. The first and second generation aromatase inhibitors encounter the undesirable drug- drug interactions besides being not very specific and plagued with pharmacokinetic problems. Third generation aromatase inhibitors developed recently are more potent and specific with a greater capacity to annihilate circulating estrogen levels. These agents have satisfactory pharmacokinetic profiles and are devoid of major drug-drug interactions. Third generation aromatase inhibitors became drugs of choice for both first and second line treatment of advanced breast cancer. Aromatase inhibitors can also be used for neoadjuvant therapy of breast cancer in which they have achieved better therapeutic efficacy than tamoxifen. Early results of ATAC (Armidex Tamoxifen Alone or Combination) trial suggest that anastrozole is superior to tamoxifen in adjuvant setting for disease free survival, particularly in receptor positive patients, and in reducing the incidence of contralateral breast cancer. Therapeutic potential of aromatase inhibitors stretches beyond the postmenopausal breast cancer treatment as they also play a role in the treatment of estrogen dependent benign and malignant conditions such as gynaecomastia, prostate cancer, fibroadenomata and the induction of ovulation. By virtue of their ability to reduce estrogen levels they pose problems like demineralization of bone, hot flushes and anti-implantation effects.
Keywords: breast cancer, aromatase inhibitors, estrogen, cytochrome p450, pharmocokinetics, adjuvant therapy
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