Clinically used breast cancer markers such as estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 are unstable throughout tumor progression

J Clin Oncol. 2012 Jul 20;30(21):2601-8. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2011.37.2482. Epub 2012 Jun 18.


PURPOSE To investigate whether hormonal receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) change throughout tumor progression, because this may alter patient management. PATIENTS AND METHODS The study cohort included female patients with breast cancer in the Stockholm health care region who relapsed from January 1, 1997, to December 31, 2007. Either biochemical or immunohistochemical (IHC)/immunocytochemical (ICC) methods were used to determine estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and HER2 status, which was then confirmed by fluorescent in situ hybridization for IHC/ICC 2+ and 3+ status. Results ER (459 patients), PR (430 patients), and HER2 (104 patients) from both primary tumor and relapse were assessed, revealing a change in 32.4% (McNemar's test P < .001), 40.7% (P < .001), and 14.5% (P = .44) of patients, respectively. Assessment of ER (119 patients), PR (116 patients), and HER2 (32 patients) with multiple (from two to six) consecutive relapses showed an alteration in 33.6%, 32.0%, and 15.7% of patients, respectively. A statistically significant differential overall survival related to intraindividual ER and PR status in primary tumor and relapse (log-rank P < .001) was noted. In addition, women with ER-positive primary tumors that changed to ER-negative tumors had a significant 48% increased risk of death (hazard ratio, 1.48; 95% CI, 1.08 to 2.05) compared with women with stable ER-positive tumors. CONCLUSION Patients with breast cancer experience altered hormone receptor and HER2 status throughout tumor progression, possibly influenced by adjuvant therapies, which significantly influences survival. Hence, marker investigations at relapse may potentially improve patient management and survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / metabolism*
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • Receptor, ErbB-2