Anticipating changes in the HER2 status of breast tumours with disease progression-towards better treatment decisions in the new era of HER2-low breast cancers

Br J Cancer. 2023 Apr 29. doi: 10.1038/s41416-023-02287-x. Online ahead of print.


Background: HER2 expression is often negative or low in primary breast cancers (BCs) but its changes with disease progression remain poorly known. We aimed to estimate them between primary and recurrent tumours, and identify predictive factors.

Methods: We compared the HER2 status, and clinical and pathological characteristics by its evolution category (stable or changed), between all primary BCs and matched recurrences registered in our database in 2000-2020 (n = 512).

Results: HER2-low tumours were the most prevalent at diagnosis (44.9%), followed by HER2-negative tumours (39.3%). HER2 status significantly changed in 37.3% of recurrences, mainly of HER2-negative and HER2-low tumours. HER2-negative tumours which relapsed as HER2-low significantly more frequently expressed oestrogen receptors (ER) and recurred later than stably HER2-negative tumours. Changed HER2 status in distant metastases correlated with lower proliferation rates and higher ER expression in primary tumours, and among metastases of hormone receptor-positive (HR+) tumours-with weak progesterone receptor (PR) expression in primary tumours.

Conclusions: HER2 status changes with BC progression, with enrichment of HER2-low tumours in advanced stages. The ER+/PR- status, low proliferation index and time to late recurrence correlated with these changes. These findings highlight the need of retesting recurrences, especially of HR + primary tumours, to identify candidates for new anti-HER2 therapies.