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Eur J Cancer. 2002 Mar;38(4):535-42.

C-erbB-2 expression does not predict response to docetaxel or sequential methotrexate and 5-fluorouracil in advanced breast cancer.

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Department of Oncology, Helsinki University Hospital, Haartmaninkatu 4, FIN-00290, Helsinki, Finland.


Breast cancer patients with c-erbB-2-positive tumours seem to benefit from anthracycline-based adjuvant chemotherapy. The predictive value of c-erbB-2 for taxane sensitivity is not yet clear. The purpose of this study was to assess whether c-erbB-2 expression is associated with clinical sensitivity to docetaxel (T) or sequential methotrexate and 5-fluorouracil (MF). A total of 283 patients with metastatic breast cancer were initially enrolled in a randomised multicentre trial comparing docetaxel with sequential MF in advanced breast cancer. Paraffin-embedded blocks of the primary tumour were available for 131 patients (46%). c-erbB-2 status was determined by immunohistochemistry using a polyclonal antibody to the c-erbB-2 protein. C-erbB-2 expression was scored in a semi-quantitative fashion using a 0 to 3+ scale. Staining scores 2+ or greater were considered positive. Response evaluation was performed according to World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. Overall 54 (42%) patients had c-erbB-2-positive tumours. There was no association between treatment outcome and c-erbB-2 overexpression. The overall response rates (RR) (n=128) among c-erbB-2-negative and -positive patients were 35 and 44%, respectively (P=0.359). In the MF arm (n=62), the RR was somewhat higher in the c-erbB-2 overexpressors (33% versus 18%, P=0.18). In the docetaxel arm the RRs were very similar, regardless of the c-erbB-2 expression (53% versus 53%). While several studies have suggested a prognostic and putative predictive significance of c-erbB-2 overexpression in early breast cancer, the significance of c-erbB-2 expression as a predictive factor for response to various cytotoxic treatments in advanced breast cancer is still controversial. In this study, c-erbB-2 expression could not predict response to either MF or T. Thus, tumours over-expressing c-erbB-2 are not uniformly more sensitive to taxanes and c-erbB-2 expression cannot yet be applied clinically as a predictive factor for response in advanced breast cancer.

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