There is increasing evidence that the clinical efficacy of tamoxifen, the first and most widely used targeted therapy for estrogen-sensitive breast cancer, depends on the formation of the active metabolites 4-hydroxy-tamoxifen and 4-hydroxy-N-desmethyl-tamoxifen (endoxifen). Large inter-individual variability in endoxifen plasma concentrations has been observed and related both to genetic and environmental (i.e. drug-induced) factors altering CYP450s metabolizing enzymes activity. In this context, we have developed an ultra performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry method (UPLC-MS/MS) requiring 100 μL of plasma for the quantification of tamoxifen and three of its major metabolites in breast cancer patients. Plasma is purified by a combination of protein precipitation, evaporation at room temperature under nitrogen, and reconstitution in methanol/20 mM ammonium formate 1:1 (v/v), adjusted to pH 2.9 with formic acid. Reverse-phase chromatographic separation of tamoxifen, N-desmethyl-tamoxifen, 4-hydroxy-tamoxifen and 4-hydroxy-N-desmethyl-tamoxifen is performed within 13 min using elution with a gradient of 10 mM ammonium formate and acetonitrile, both containing 0.1% formic acid. Analytes quantification, using matrix-matched calibration samples spiked with their respective deuterated internal standards, is performed by electrospray ionization-triple quadrupole mass spectrometry using selected reaction monitoring detection in the positive mode. The method was validated according to FDA recommendations, including assessment of relative matrix effects variability, as well as tamoxifen and metabolites short-term stability in plasma and whole blood. The method is precise (inter-day CV%: 2.5-7.8%), accurate (-1.4 to +5.8%) and sensitive (lower limits of quantification comprised between 0.4 and 2.0 ng/mL). Application of this method to patients' samples has made possible the identification of two further metabolites, 4'-hydroxy-tamoxifen and 4'-hydroxy-N-desmethyl-tamoxifen, described for the first time in breast cancer patients. This UPLC-MS/MS assay is currently applied for monitoring plasma levels of tamoxifen and its metabolites in breast cancer patients within the frame of a clinical trial aiming to assess the impact of dose increase on tamoxifen and endoxifen exposure. Copyright © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.