Assessment of the HER2 status in breast cancer by fluorescence in situ hybridization: a technical review with interpretive guidelines

Hum Pathol. 2005 Mar;36(3):250-61. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2004.11.010.


Diagnostic assays for HER2 in breast cancer provide important prognostic information and independently help guide management by identifying patients who are the most likely to benefit from Herceptin-targeted therapy. The biological events underlying HER2 -driven breast cancer that can be assessed in routine clinical specimens include the evaluation of gene amplification by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), enhanced messenger RNA expression by real-time polymerase chain reaction, and the assessment of protein overexpression at the tumor cell membrane by immunohistochemistry (IHC). Immunohistochemistry and FISH methodologies have the advantage of being morphologically driven, allowing for correlations between HER2 expression and morphologic features. However, each has important advantages and disadvantages, which are discussed in detail. Although immunohistochemistry is familiar and readily accommodated in most surgical pathology laboratories, increasing demands for FISH testing in the clinical setting will require greater familiarity with the technical aspects of FISH assays and their interpretation by the greater laboratory community. In this review, we provide an overview of FISH testing for HER2 in breast cancer, with an emphasis on technical considerations, interpretive guidelines, scoring criteria, and quality control. The development of automated platforms for hybridization, image analysis for signal enumeration, and experience with FISH interpretation should broaden the availability of this technology for clinical diagnostic testing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Nucleus / chemistry
  • Cytoplasm / chemistry
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence* / methods
  • Quality Control
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / analysis
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / genetics*


  • Receptor, ErbB-2