Purpose: To evaluate and validate mRNA expression markers capable of identifying patients with ErbB2-positive breast cancer associated with distant metastasis and reduced survival.
Patients and methods: Expression of 60 genes involved in breast cancer biology was assessed by quantitative real-time PCR (qrt-PCR) in 317 primary breast cancer patients and correlated with clinical outcome data. Results were validated subsequently using two previously published and publicly available microarray data sets with different patient populations comprising 295 and 286 breast cancer samples, respectively.
Results: Of the 60 genes measured by qrt-PCR, urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA or PLAU) mRNA expression was the most significant marker associated with distant metastasis-free survival (MFS) by univariate Cox analysis in patients with ErbB2-positive tumors and an independent factor in multivariate analysis. Subsequent validation in two microarray data sets confirmed the prognostic value of uPA in ErbB2-positive tumors by both univariate and multivariate analysis. uPA mRNA expression was not significantly associated with MFS in ErbB2-negative tumors. Kaplan-Meier analysis showed in all three study populations that patients with ErbB2-positive/uPA-positive tumors exhibited significantly reduced MFS (hazard ratios [HR], 4.3; 95% CI, 1.6 to 11.8; HR, 2.7; 95% CI, 1.2 to 6.2; and, HR, 2.8; 95% CI, 1.1 to 7.1; all P < .02) as compared with the group with ErbB2-positive/uPA-negative tumors who exhibited similar outcome to those with ErbB2-negative tumors, irrespective of uPA status.
Conclusion: After evaluation of 898 breast cancer patients, uPA mRNA expression emerged as a powerful prognostic indicator in ErbB2-positive tumors. These results were consistent among three independent study populations assayed by different techniques, including qrt-PCR and two microarray platforms.