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Cancer. 2001 Dec 15;92(12):2965-74.

Detection of HER-2/neu (c-erb B-2) DNA amplification in primary breast carcinoma. Interobserver reproducibility and correlation with immunohistochemical HER-2 overexpression.

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Department of Pathology II, National Defense Medical College, Saitama, Japan.



Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) has been shown to be one of the most reliable methods with which to estimate the status of the HER-2/neu (or c-erb B-2) oncogene at the DNA level.


To study interobserver reproducibility and to determine more clinically correlated criteria for HER-2/neu alterations, two observers independently estimated HER-2/neu DNA status. The correlation between the consensus HER-2/neu DNA status by FISH and HER-2/neu protein status detected by immunohistochemistry (IHC) using a polyclonal antibody was studied in 216 surgically resected breast carcinomas and 34 noncancerous tissues.


According to the HER-2/CEP17 ratio and mean HER-2 copies per nucleus, agreement level of HER-2/neu amplification was shown to be nearly perfect between two observers (kappa statistic (kappa) = 0.94 and kappa = 0.84). Finally, 40 tumors (19%) were judged to have HER-2/neu DNA amplification, with 6 having low-level amplification (> or = 2 but < 3 folds) and 34 having high-level amplification (> or = 3 folds). One hundred seventy-six other tumors, including 3 tumors that only 1 of the observers determined to be low-level amplifiers, and 34 noncancerous tissues had no detected amplification. The DNA amplification status was concordant between invasive and intraductal components in 14 carcinomas. HER-2/neu protein overexpression of moderate (2+) or high (3+) intensity based on IHC was detected in 51 carcinomas (24%), and was 2+ in 20 carcinomas and 3+ in 31 carcinomas. The HER-2/CEP17 ratio of > or = 2 was concordant with IHC findings of 2+/3+ in 91% of carcinomas (195 of 215 carcinomas), with a sensitivity of 70% (35 of 50 carcinomas) and a specificity of 97% (160 of 165 carcinomas). High-level amplification was detected in 29 of 31 IHC 3+ cases (94%), but in only 5 of 20 IHC 2+ cases (25%) and 0 in 165 IHC 0/1+ cases. All 34 cases with high-level amplification showed an IHC score of 3+ (29 cases) or an IHC score of 2+ (5 cases), but only 1 case was found to have an IHC score of 3+ and the remainder were IHC 0/1+ in 6 low-amplification cases. The concordance rate of the high-level amplification with an IHC score of 3+ was 97% (208 of 215 cases), with a sensitivity of 94% (29 of 31 cases) and a specificity of 97% (179 of 184 cases).


The results of the current study indicated that high-level HER-2/neu amplification and an IHC score of 3+ nearly optimally identified breast carcinomas with clinically and biologically significant HER-2/neu activation. Conversely, it was confirmed that careful interpretation of test results is required in the case of low-level amplification and/or an IHC score of 2+.

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