Résumé : BACKGROUND: Women with hormone-responsive metastatic breast cancer (MBC) may respond to or have stable disease with a number of hormone therapies. We explored the efficacy and safety of the steroidal aromatase inactivator exemestane as first-line hormonal therapy in MBC in postmenopausal women. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Patients with measurable disease were eligible if they had received no prior hormone therapy for metastatic disease and had hormone receptor positive disease or hormone receptor unknown disease with a long disease-free interval from adjuvant therapy. They were randomized to tamoxifen 20 mg/day or exemestane 25 mg/day in this open-label study. RESULTS: Blinded independently reviewed response rates for exemestane and tamoxifen were 41% and 17%, respectively. Fifty-seven per cent of exemestane- and 42% of tamoxifen-treated patients experienced clinical benefit, defined as complete or partial response, or disease stabilization lasting at least 6 months. There was a low incidence of severe flushing, sweating, nausea and edema in women who received exemestane. One exemestane-treated patient had a pulmonary embolism with grade 4 dyspnea. CONCLUSIONS: Exemestane is well tolerated and active in the first-line treatment of hormone-responsive MBC. An ongoing EORTC phase III trial is comparing the efficacy, measuring time-to-disease progression, of exemestane and tamoxifen.