The overexpression or amplification of the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 gene (HER2/neu) is associated with high risk of brain metastasis (BM). The identification of patients at highest immediate risk of BM could optimize screening and facilitate interventional trials. We performed gene expression analysis using complementary deoxyribonucleic acid-mediated annealing, selection, extension and ligation and real-time quantitative reverse transcription PCR (qRT-PCR) in primary tumor samples from two independent cohorts of advanced HER2 positive breast cancer patients. Additionally, we analyzed predictive relevance of clinicopathological factors in this series. Study group included discovery Cohort A (84 patients) and validation Cohort B (75 patients). The only independent variables associated with the development of early BM in both cohorts were the visceral location of first distant relapse [Cohort A: hazard ratio (HR) 7.4, 95 % CI 2.4-22.3; p < 0.001; Cohort B: HR 6.1, 95 % CI 1.5-25.6; p = 0.01] and the lack of trastuzumab administration in the metastatic setting (Cohort A: HR 5.0, 95 % CI 1.4-10.0; p = 0.009; Cohort B: HR 10.0, 95 % CI 2.0-100.0; p = 0.008). A profile including 13 genes was associated with early (≤36 months) symptomatic BM in the discovery cohort. This was refined by qRT-PCR to a 3-gene classifier (RAD51, HDGF, TPR) highly predictive of early BM (HR 5.3, 95 % CI 1.6-16.7; p = 0.005; multivariate analysis). However, predictive value of the classifier was not confirmed in the independent validation Cohort B. The presence of visceral metastases and the lack of trastuzumab administration in the metastatic setting apparently increase the likelihood of early BM in advanced HER2-positive breast cancer.