Monitoring the circulating levels of the HER2/neu oncoprotein in breast cancer

Clin Breast Cancer. 2004 Jun;5(2):105-16. doi: 10.3816/cbc.2004.n.014.


The HER2/neu oncoprotein is a major target for the development of new cancer therapies and is similar to the estrogen receptor, which guides hormone therapy. The HER2/neu status is used to guide therapy decisions in patients with HER2/neu-overexpressing breast cancer tumors. The HER2/neu oncogene, or c-erbB-2, encodes a transmembrane receptor protein that is expressed on normal epithelial cells and can be overexpressed in breast cancer cells. Studies have shown that the extracellular domain (ECD) of the HER2/neu oncoprotein is released from the cell and can be measured in the circulation of women with breast cancer. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay methods used to measure the circulating HER2/neu ECD have shown that the prevalence of elevated ECD levels is approximately 18.1% in women with primary breast cancer and approximately 45.6% in women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC). Many studies have monitored the circulating ECD levels after surgery and indicate that increasing ECD levels can indicate recurrence of breast cancer earlier than clinical diagnosis. Studies in women with MBC showed that serial changes in circulating HER2/neu ECD levels paralleled the clinical course of disease, regardless of the treatment regimen. Several studies identified a subgroup of patients with MBC who had HER2/neu-negative disease by tissue testing but developed elevated ECD levels with MBC. In contrast to tissue testing, which is a one-time event, monitoring the circulating levels of the HER2/neu ECD in patients with breast cancer provides a real-time assessment of the HER2/neu status and provides important information for managing the therapy of patients with MBC.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / blood*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / genetics
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Survival Analysis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Receptor, ErbB-2