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Clin Cancer Res. 2007 Apr 15;13(8):2329-34.

The triple negative paradox: primary tumor chemosensitivity of breast cancer subtypes.

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Division of Hematology/Oncology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-7305, USA.



Gene expression analysis identifies several breast cancer subtypes. We examined the relationship of neoadjuvant chemotherapy response to outcome among these breast cancer subtypes.


We used immunohistochemical profiles [human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive (HER2+)/hormone receptor-negative for HER2+/estrogen receptor-negative (ER-), hormone receptor and HER2- for basal-like, hormone receptor-positive for luminal] to subtype a prospectively maintained data set of patients with breast cancer treated with neoadjuvant anthracycline-based (doxorubicin plus cyclophosphamide, AC) chemotherapy. We analyzed each subtype for clinical and pathologic response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy and examined the relationship of response to distant disease-free survival and overall survival.


Of the 107 patients tested, 34 (32%) were basal-like, 11 (10%) were HER2+/ER-, and 62 (58%) were luminal. After neoadjuvant AC, 75% received subsequent chemotherapy and all received endocrine therapy if hormone receptor-positive. The chemotherapy regimen and pretreatment stage did not differ by subtype. Clinical response to AC was higher among the HER2+/ER- (70%) and basal-like (85%) than the luminal subtypes (47%; P < 0.0001). Pathologic complete response occurred in 36% of HER2+/ER-, 27% of basal-like, and 7% of luminal subtypes (P = 0.01). Despite initial chemosensitivity, patients with the basal-like and HER2+/ER- subtypes had worse distant disease-free survival (P = 0.04) and overall survival (P = 0.02) than those with the luminal subtypes. Regardless of subtype, only 2 of 17 patients with pathologic complete response relapsed. The worse outcome among basal-like and HER+/ER- subtypes was due to higher relapse among those with residual disease (P = 0.003).


Basal-like and HER2+/ER- subtypes are more sensitive to anthracycline-based neoadjuvant chemotherapy than luminal breast cancers. Patients that had pathologic complete response to chemotherapy had a good prognosis regardless of subtype. The poorer prognosis of basal-like and HER2+/ER- breast cancers could be explained by a higher likelihood of relapse in those patients in whom pathologic complete response was not achieved.

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