HER2 is not a cancer subtype but rather a pan-cancer event and is highly enriched in AR-driven breast tumors

Breast Cancer Res. 2018 Jan 30;20(1):8. doi: 10.1186/s13058-018-0933-y.


Background: Approximately one in five breast cancers are driven by amplification and overexpression of the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) receptor kinase, and HER2-enriched (HER2E) is one of four major transcriptional subtypes of breast cancer. We set out to understand the genomics of HER2 amplification independent of subtype, and the underlying drivers and biology of HER2E tumors.

Methods: We investigated published genomic data from 3155 breast tumors and 5391 non-breast tumors.

Results: HER2 amplification is a distinct driver event seen in all breast cancer subtypes, rather than a subtype marker, with major characteristics restricted to amplification and overexpression of HER2 and neighboring genes. The HER2E subtype has a distinctive transcriptional landscape independent of HER2A that reflects androgen receptor signaling as replacement for estrogen receptor (ER)-driven tumorigenesis. HER2 amplification is also an event in 1.8% of non-breast tumors.

Conclusions: These discoveries reveal therapeutic opportunities for combining anti-HER2 therapy with anti-androgen agents in breast cancer, and highlight the potential for broader therapeutic use of HER2 inhibitors.

Keywords: Amplification; Breast cancer; Cancer; ERBB2; Genomic characterization; HER2-targeted treatment; Molecular apocrine; PAM50.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / classification
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / genetics*
  • Receptors, Androgen / genetics
  • Receptors, Estrogen / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics*


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