Background: Epidermal growth factor receptors contribute to breast cancer relapse during endocrine therapy. Substitution of aromatase inhibitors (AIs) may improve outcomes in HER-positive cancers.
Methods: Tissue microarrays were constructed. Quantitative analysis of HER1, HER2, and HER3 was performed. Data were analysed relative to disease-free survival and treatment using outcomes at 2.75 and 6.5 years.
Results: Among 4541 eligible samples, 4225 (93%) had complete HER1-3 data. Overall, 5% were HER1-positive, 13% HER2-positive, and 21% HER3-positive; 32% (n=1351) overexpressed at least one HER receptor. In the HER1-3-negative subgroup, the hazard ratio (HR) for upfront exemestane vs tamoxifen at 2.75 years was 0.67 (95% confidence interval (CI), 0.52-0.87), in the HER1-3-positive subgroup, the HR was 1.15 (95% CI, 0.85-1.56). A prospectively planned treatment-by-marker analysis demonstrated a significant interaction between HER1-3 and treatment at 2.75 years (HR=0.58; 95% CI, 0.39-0.87; P=0.008), as confirmed by multivariate regression analysis adjusting for prognostic factors (HR=0.55; 95% CI, 0.36-0.85; P=0.005). This effect was time dependent.
Conclusion: In the 2.75 years prior to switching patients initially treated with tamoxifen to exemestane, a significant treatment-by-marker effect exists between AI/tamoxifen treatment and HER1-3 expression, suggesting HER expression could be used to select appropriate endocrine treatment at diagnosis to prevent or delay early relapses.