Backgrounds: The presence of ≥5 circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in 7.5 ml blood is a poor prognostic marker in metastatic breast cancer (MBC). However, the role of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) status in CTCs is not known.
Methods: We prospectively assessed the prognostic value of this parameter for patients with MBC who started a new line of systemic therapy. The CTC count (≥5 or <5) and the HER2 status in CTCs at the initiation of the therapy and 3-4 weeks later (first follow-up) were determined.
Results: The median follow-up time of the 52 enrolled patients was 655.0 days (18-1,275 days). HER2-positive CTCs were present in 14 of the 52 patients (26.9%) during the study period. Eight of 33 patients (24.2%) with HER2-negative primary tumors had HER2-positive CTCs during the study period. At first follow-up, patients with HER2-positive CTCs had significantly shorter progression-free (n = 6; P = 0.001) and overall (P = 0.013) survival than did patients without HER2-positive CTCs (n = 43) in log-rank analysis. In multivariate analysis, HER2-positive CTCs at first follow-up (P = 0.029) and the number of therapies patients received before this study (P = 0.006) were independent prognostic factors in terms of progression-free survival. The number of therapies (P = 0.001) and a count of ≥5 CTCs (P = 0.043) at baseline were independent prognostic factors in terms of overall survival.
Conclusions: We showed that HER2 status in CTCs may be a prognostic factor for MBC. Well-powered prospective studies are necessary to determine the potential role of HER2-targeted therapies for patients with HER2-positive CTCs and HER2-negative primary tumors.