Towards personalized treatment for early stage HER2-positive breast cancer

Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2020 Apr;17(4):233-250. doi: 10.1038/s41571-019-0299-9. Epub 2019 Dec 13.


Advances in HER2-targeted therapies have improved the survival of patients with HER2-positive breast cancer. The standard-of-care treatment for localized disease has been chemotherapy and 1 year of adjuvant HER2-targeted therapy, typically with the anti-HER2 antibody trastuzumab. Despite the effectiveness of this treatment, disease relapse occurs in a subset of patients; thus, focus has been placed on escalating treatment by either combining different HER2-targeted agents or extending the duration of HER2-targeted therapy. Indeed, dual HER2-targeted therapies and extended-duration anti-HER2 therapy, as well as adjuvant therapy with the anti-HER2 antibody-drug conjugate T-DM1, have all been approved for clinical use. Emerging evidence suggests, however, that some patients do not derive sufficient benefit from these additional therapies to offset the associated toxicities and/or costs. Similarly, the universal use of chemotherapy might not benefit all patients, and treatment de-escalation through omission of chemotherapy has shown promise in clinical trials and is currently being explored further. The future of precision medicine should therefore involve tailoring of therapy based on the genetics and biology of each tumour and the clinical characteristics of each patient. Predictive biomarkers that enable the identification of patients who will benefit from either escalated or de-escalated treatment will be crucial to this approach. In this Review, we summarize the available HER2-targeted agents and associated mechanisms of resistance, and describe the current therapeutic landscape of early stage HER2-positive breast cancer, focusing on strategies for treatment escalation or de-escalation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Precision Medicine / methods*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism
  • Trastuzumab / administration & dosage
  • Trastuzumab / therapeutic use*


  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Trastuzumab