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J Clin Oncol. 1992 Apr;10(4):599-605.

HER-2/neu in node-negative breast cancer: prognostic significance of overexpression influenced by the presence of in situ carcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio 78284-7884.



Amplification and/or overexpression of the HER-2/neu oncogene have been shown to correlate with poor clinical outcome in patients with axillary node-positive breast cancer. In contrast, the prognostic significance of HER-2/neu in node-negative disease is controversial. This study was undertaken to evaluate further the relationship between HER-2/neu and clinical outcome in node-negative disease.


Overexpression of HER-2/neu was evaluated by permanent-section immunohistochemistry in tumors from 613 patients with long-term clinical follow-up enrolled in the Intergroup Study 0011. Patients were stratified into low-risk (n = 307) and high-risk (n = 306) groups on the basis of tumor size and estrogen-receptor (ER) status. Low-risk patients were defined as having small (less than 3 cm), ER-positive tumors and were observed without additional treatment after initial surgery. High-risk patients had either ER-negative or large (greater than or equal to 3 cm), ER-positive tumors and were randomized to be observed (n = 146) or to receive adjuvant chemotherapy (n = 160) after surgery.


The rate of HER-2/neu overexpression was 14.3% in all tumors combined and was higher in invasive carcinomas with (21.5%) than without (11.2%) a significant noninvasive or in situ histologic component (P less than .0001). There was no relationship between overexpression and clinical outcome in the natural history setting of combined low-risk and high-risk patients not receiving adjuvant therapy (n = 453). Based on the reasoning that the influence of HER-2/neu may have been obscured by high-risk features and/or the presence of noninvasive carcinoma, we also analyzed the subset of patients with low-risk lesions not containing a significant in situ component (n = 179). Patients of this group with HER-2/neu-positive tumors showed only 40% disease-free survival (DFS) at 5 years, compared with over 80% in patients with HER-2/neu-negative tumors (P less than .0001). A similar inverse correlation was observed between overexpression and overall survival in the same group of patients (P = .0001). In a separate analysis involving patients receiving adjuvant chemotherapy, those with HER-2/neu-negative tumors showed significantly improved DFS in response to therapy compared with patients with HER-2/neu-positive tumors.


Overexpression of HER-2/neu is associated with poor clinical outcome in a subset of node-negative patients with small, ER-positive, predominantly invasive tumors and may play a role in resistance to adjuvant chemotherapy.

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