Novel palliative strategies for patients with androgen-independent prostate cancer (AIPC) include targeting the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) family. The aim of the present study was to investigate intrapatient changes of EGFRs during the development of AIPC. In total, 106 symptomatic AIPC patients were identified in whom prostatic biopsies (adenocarcinoma) were available both before the start of androgen deprivation (PRTR biopsy) and after the development of AIPC (AIPC biopsy). All four known subgroups of the EGFR family were determined by immunohistochemistry (IHC): c-erbB-1 (EGFR), c-erbB-2 (HER2/neu), c-erbB-3 (HER3) and c-erbB-4 (HER4). Moderate to strong membrane-specific staining was recorded semiquantitatively (<10% vs >/=10%=IHC stained tumour cells: 'negative' vs 'positive' staining). The medical records were reviewed for clinical variables. During the development of AIPC, intrapatient changes occurred in two opposite directions for each of the four EGFRs: negativity changed to positivity, and vice versa, statistically significant only for the increase of c-erbB-1 expression (P=0.001). The c-erbB-2 expression in the AIPC biopsy was associated with a significantly shorter survival from the time of the AIPC biopsy (P=0.029). Our results support ongoing therapeutic attempts of EGFR inhibition in subgroups of patients with prostate cancer. Further research is needed to understand the function of EGFRs in this malignancy.