Background: Aromatase inhibitors (AI) are increasingly used in early breast cancer and there is a growing interest in associated long-term side-effects of profound estrogen suppression. Urogenital side-effects due to atrophic vaginitis are often managed with vaginal estrogen preparations. These are generally perceived to result in minimal systemic absorption of estrogen. We followed serum estradiol, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH) levels in seven postmenopausal women using vaginal estrogen preparations whilst on AIs for breast cancer.
Patients and methods: Serum was analysed for estradiol, FSH and LH at baseline then 2, 4, 7–10 and 12 weeks since commencement of vaginal estradiol. Estradiol was measured on an assay specifically developed for measuring low levels in postmenopausal women.
Results: Serum estradiol levels rose from baseline levels ≤5 pmol/l consistent with AI therapy to a mean 72 pmol/l at 2 weeks. By 4 weeks this had decreased to <35 pmol/l in the majority (median 16 pmol/l) although significant further rises were seen in two women.
Conclusions: The vaginal estradiol tablet Vagifem significantly raises systemic estradiol levels, at least in the short term. This reverses the estradiol suppression achieved by aromatase inhibitors in women with breast cancer and is contraindicated.