Background: The role of molecular markers in predicting the response to treatment of breast cancer is poorly defined. The Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) conducted a randomized adjuvant-chemotherapy trial (CALGB 8541) comparing three doses (high, moderate, and low) of cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and fluorouracil in 1572 women with node-positive breast cancer. This study (CALGB 8869) was designed to determine whether the DNA index, the S-phase fraction, c-erbB-2 expression, or p53 accumulation could be used as a marker to identify a subgroup of patients more likely than others to benefit from high doses of chemotherapy.
Methods: Tissue blocks were obtained from 442 patients randomly selected from the larger CALGB trial. Paraffin sections from the primary lesions were analyzed for DNA content, S-phase fraction, c-erbB-2 expression, and p53 accumulation.
Results: Patients randomly assigned to the high-dose regimen of adjuvant chemotherapy had significantly longer disease-free and overall survival if their tumors had c-erbB-2 overexpression. No further information was gained by adding the data on S-phase fraction or p53 accumulation to the analysis. There was no clear evidence of a dose-response effect in patients with minimal or no c-erbB-2 expression.
Conclusions: There is a significant dose-response effect of adjuvant chemotherapy with cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and fluorouracil in patients with overexpression of c-erbB-2 but not in patients with no c-erbB-2 expression or minimal c-erbB-2 expression. Overexpression of c-erbB-2 may be a useful marker to identify the patients who are most likely to benefit from high doses of adjuvant chemotherapy.