Comparative long-term prognostic value of quantitative HER-2/neu protein expression, DNA ploidy, and morphometric and clinical features in paraffin-embedded invasive breast cancer

Lab Invest. 1991 Feb;64(2):215-23.


Data regarding the prognostic value of HER-2/neu protein expression in breast cancer are conflicting, perhaps because of short follow-up and technical difficulties in the determination (the admixture of benign elements with the biochemical method and the subjectivity of the immunohistochemical assessment). Therefore, using digital image processing, we compared the correlation between and the prognostic value of (a) quantitative immunohistochemical HER-2/neu protein expression and (b) clinical, morphometric, and flow-cytometric DNA ploidy features; histologic grade; and biochemically assessed estrogen receptor content. Paraffin-embedded invasive breast Pancers of 82 patients with long-term follow-up were used. None of the patients had received adjuvant systemic therapy. HER-2/neu protein expression was significantly correlated with DNA index, lymph node status, and tumor size and, in the diploid tumors, was weakly correlated with the percentage of S-phase cells. Strong HER-2/neu protein expression was associated with a worse prognosis (although not significantly, p = 0.07). No differences were detected between cancers with or without axillary lymph node metastases. In survival analysis, the Multivariate Prognostic Index and the morphometric features were much stronger prognosticators than HER-2/neu protein overexpression, which, however, had additional prognostic value to that of many of the features analyzed, especially when more than 35% HER-2/neu protein levels (relative to the high expression SKBR3 cell line) were present. Combined diploidy and HER-2/neu protein content greater than 35% occurred in a small group of patients (n = 3), all of whom died. Likewise, in tetraploid cancers a combination of S-phase cells greater than or equal to 7% and HER-2/neu protein content greater than 35% was an ominous sign. In multivariate analysis, strong HER-2/neu protein overexpression was prognostically over-shadowed by the morphometric features. Nevertheless, it is important to further analyze the intriguing possibility of identifying a subgroup of breast cancer patients with a very poor outcome merely using cytometric analysis of paraffin-embedded material of the primary tumor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / pathology
  • DNA, Neoplasm / analysis
  • DNA, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry / methods
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Ploidies*
  • Prognosis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / analysis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogenes*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • S Phase


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptor, ErbB-2