The HER-2/neu oncogene in tumors of the gastrointestinal tract

Cancer Invest. 2001;19(5):554-68. doi: 10.1081/cnv-100103852.


The HER-2/neu oncogene is localized to chromosome 17q and shares significant homology with the epidermal growth factor receptor. As a result of its potential role in the selection of therapy, HER-2/neu testing has reached near-standard-of-practice status in breast cancer. There is considerable interest in HER-2/neu as a prognostic factor and target of therapy in tumors of the gastrointestinal tract. In this review of HER-2/neu expression in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinomas of the esophagus, stomach, and colon, a wide range of expression of HER-2/neu from 0 to 83% likely reflects both differences in methods and reagents, as well as study bias associated with patient selection (i.e., early versus advanced disease). For esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, little information exists as to the prognostic significance of HER-2/neu expression. In adenocarcinoma associated with Barrett's esophagus there is contradictory data. However, most of the information available indicates that this marker has significant prognostic value. In gastric adenocarcinoma, the wide expression range may truly reflect patient selection because HER-2/neu positivity appears linked to advanced rather than early disease with limited invasion. The majority of studies favor a significant prognostic value of HER-2/neu status for this tumor. Finally, in colorectal cancer HER-2/neu overexpression also appears to be a significant adverse outcome indicator as judged by the current published literature. In conclusion, given that either HER-2/neu protein overexpression or gene amplification is associated with approximately one-fourth of all gastrointestinal tract malignancies, strategies designed to employ the marker in therapy selection appear warranted. During the next several years it will not be surprising to see these tumors treated with antiHER-2/neu modalities such as Herceptin, likely in combination with other agents initially for patients with advanced disease, and possibly for individuals with high-risk lesions in an adjuvant setting.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics
  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Genes, erbB-2 / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Mutation*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / genetics