Purpose: To determine the effect of elevated serum HER-2/neu on the response of metastatic breast cancer patients to an aromatase inhibitor versus an antiestrogen.
Patients and methods: Five hundred sixty-two estrogen receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer patients were randomized to first-line hormone therapy with either letrozole or tamoxifen. An automated enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was used to detect serum HER-2/neu.
Results: For patients with normal serum HER-2/neu (70.5%), objective response rate (ORR; 39% in letrozole-treated patients v 26% in tamoxifen-treated patients; P =.008), clinical benefit (CB; 57% v 45%; P =.016), time to progression (TTP; median, 12.2 v 8.5 months; P =.0019), and time to treatment failure (TTF; median, 11.6 v 6.2 months; P =.0066) were significantly better in patients treated with letrozole. In the elevated HER-2/neu group (29.5%), there was no significant difference in ORR (17% in letrozole-treated patients v 13% in tamoxifen-treated patients; P =.45) or CB (33% v 26%; P =.31), but there was a strong trend in favor of a longer TTP with letrozole (median, 6.1 v 3.3 months; P =.0596) and a significantly longer TTF with letrozole (median, 6.0 v 3.2 months; P =.0418). Multivariate analysis revealed that elevated serum HER-2/neu was a negative predictor for ORR and TTP.
Conclusion: Patients with normal serum HER-2/neu receiving letrozole demonstrated a significantly greater ORR and CB and longer TTP and TTF than patients receiving tamoxifen. Although in patients with elevated serum HER-2/neu there was no significant difference between letrozole and tamoxifen in ORR or CB, there was a strong trend favoring longer TTP and significantly longer TTF with letrozole.