Aim: To analyze the pathogenetic role and potential clinical usefulness of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) in patients with advanced biliary tract cancer (BTC).
Methods: EGFR and HER2 expression was studied in biopsy samples from 124 patients (51% women; median age 64.8 years), with advanced BTC diagnosed between 1997 and 2004. Five micrometers sections of paraffin embedded tissue were examined by standard, FDA approved immunohistochemistry. Tumors with scores of 2+ or 3+ for HER2 expression on immunochemistry were additionally tested for HER2 gene amplification by fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH).
Results: 34/124 patients (27.4%) had gallbladder cancer, 47 (37.9%) had intrahepatic BTC and 43 (34.7%) had extrahepatic or perihilar BTC. EGFR expression was examined in a subset of 56 samples. EGFR expression was absent in 22/56 tumors (39.3%). Of the remaining samples expression was scored as 1+ in 12 (21.5%), 2+ in 13 (23.2%) and 3+ in 9 (16%), respectively. HER2 expression was as follows: score 0 73/124 (58.8%), score 1+ 27/124 (21.8%), score 2+ 21/124 (17%) and score 3+ 4/124 (3.2%). HER2 gene amplification was present in 6/124, resulting in an overall amplification rate of 5%.
Conclusion: Our data suggest that routine testing and therapeutic targeting of HER2 does not seem to be useful in patients with BTC, while targeting EGFR may be promising.