HER2 status and efficacy of adjuvant anthracyclines in early breast cancer: a pooled analysis of randomized trials

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2008 Jan 2;100(1):14-20. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djm252. Epub 2007 Dec 25.


Background: Adjuvant chemotherapy with anthracyclines improves disease-free and overall survival compared with non-anthracycline-based adjuvant chemotherapy regimens in the treatment of early breast cancer. The role of HER2 status as a marker of anthracycline responsiveness has been explored by subset analyses within randomized clinical trials, with inconsistent results. We performed a pooled analysis of the interaction between HER2 status and the efficacy of adjuvant anthracyclines based on the published subset data.

Methods: We searched literature databases to identify randomized trials that compared anthracycline-based with non-anthracycline-based adjuvant chemotherapy regimens in the treatment of early breast cancer and reported efficacy data according to HER2 status. Log hazard ratios (HRs) for disease-free and overall survival were pooled across the studies according to HER2 status by inverse variance weighting. A pooled test for treatment by HER2 status interaction was performed by weighted linear meta-regression. All statistical tests were two-sided.

Results: Eight studies (with 6564 randomly assigned patients, of whom 5354 had HER2 status information available) were eligible for this analysis. In HER2-positive disease (n = 1536 patients), anthracyclines were superior to non-anthracycline-based regimens in terms of disease-free (pooled HR of relapse = 0.71; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.61 to 0.83; P < .001) and overall (pooled HR of death from any cause = 0.73; 95% CI = 0.62 to 0.85; P < .001) survival. In HER2-negative disease (n = 3818 patients), anthracyclines did not improve disease-free (HR = 1.00; 95% CI = 0.90 to 1.11; P = .75) or overall (HR = 1.03; 95% CI = 0.92 to 1.16; P = .60) survival. The test for treatment by HER2 status interaction yielded statistically significant results: for disease-free survival, the chi-square statistic for interaction was 13.7 (P < .001), and for overall survival, it was 12.6 (P < .001).

Conclusions: The added benefits of adjuvant chemotherapy with anthracyclines appear to be confined to women who have HER2 overexpressed or amplified breast tumors.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anthracyclines / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Odds Ratio
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / analysis*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Up-Regulation


  • Anthracyclines
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Receptor, ErbB-2