Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women and the contribution of circulating oestrogens to the growth of some mammary tumours has been recognized. Consequently, suppression of oestrogen action by inhibition of their biosynthesis at the androstenedione-oestrone aromatization step, by means of selective inhibitors of the enzyme aromatase, has become an effective therapeutic option for the treatment of hormone-dependent breast cancer. Exemestane (6-methylenandrosta-1,4-diene-3,17-dione) is a novel steroidal irreversible aromatase inhibitor recently approved and introduced into the global market under the name Aromasin®. The design, laboratory and viable syntheses of exemestane, starting from a variety of steroidal precursors, are presented and discussed. Data from biochemical and pharmacological studies as well as the clinical impact of the compound are briefly reviewed. The drug is an orally active and well-tolerated hormonal therapy for postmenopausal patients with advanced breast cancer that has become refractory to standard current hormonal therapies. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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