BACKGROUND Tamoxifen, for many years the 'gold standard' in the adjuvant setting for the management of endocrine sensitive early breast cancer, is associated with an increased risk of endometrial cancer and other life-threatening events. Moreover, many women relapse during or after tamoxifen therapy due to the development of resistance. This provided the rationale for a switching trial with anastrozole, the updated results of which are reported here. PATIENTS AND METHODS This trial investigated the efficacy of switching to anastrozole for women already receiving tamoxifen. After 2-3 years of tamoxifen treatment, postmenopausal, node-positive, ER-positive patients were randomized to receive either anastrozole 1 mg/day or to continue tamoxifen, 20 mg/day, giving a total duration of 5-years treatment. The primary end point was disease-free survival and secondary endpoints were event-free survival, overall survival and safety. RESULTS A total of 448 patients were enrolled. At a median follow-up time of 64 months (range 12-93), 63 events had been reported in the tamoxifen group compared with 39 in the anastrozole group [HR 0.57 (95% CI 0.38-0.85) P = 0.005]. Relapse-free and overall survival were also longer in the anastrozole group [HR 0.56 (95% CI 0.35-0.89) P = 0.01 and 0.56 (95% CI 0.28-1.15) P = 0.1]. However, the latter difference was not statistically significant. Overall more patients in the anastrozole group experienced at least one adverse event (209 versus 151: P = 0.000). However, numbers of patients experiencing serious adverse events were comparable (37 versus 40, respectively: P = 0.7). CONCLUSIONS Switching to anastrozole after the first 2-3 years of treatment was confirmed to improve event-free and relapse-free survival of postmenopausal, node-positive, ER-positive early breast cancer patients already receiving adjuvant tamoxifen.