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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 Dec;1786(2):105-13. doi: 10.1016/j.bbcan.2008.02.003. Epub 2008 Mar 4.

Predicting the efficacy of trastuzumab-based therapy in breast cancer: current standards and future strategies.

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Division of Special Gynecology, Medical University of Vienna and Ludwig-Boltzmann-Institute of Clinical and Experimental Oncology, Vienna, Austria.


Breast cancer is the most common female malignancy in many industrialized countries. Approximately one fourth of all women diagnosed with early breast cancer present with tumors that are characterized by erbB2 amplification. While the associated Her-2/neu receptor overexpression results in a high risk of relapse and poor prognosis, these tumors also represent a target for a selective monoclonal antibody therapy with trastuzumab (Herceptin). The combination of trastuzumab with chemotherapy has led to a considerable reduction of recurrences and to a significant reduction in breast cancer mortality both in the adjuvant and metastatic setting. Unfortunately, despite Her-2/neu overexpression, not all patients equally benefit from trastuzumab treatment, and almost all women with metastatic breast cancer eventually progress during antibody therapy. Moreover, trastuzumab is burdened with cardiotoxicity, thus increasing the risk of symptomatic congestive heart failure. In addition, the marginal costs for a 1 year therapy of trastuzumab-based therapy, which is currently considered to be the most effective treatment regimen in the adjuvant setting, may amount for up to US$ 40.000. Testing for erbB2 oncogene amplification by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and chromogenic in situ hybridization (CISH), respectively, and staining for Her-2/neu receptor overexpression by immunohistochemistry (IHC) represent the current standard for determining patient eligibility for trastuzumab-based therapy. However, while the negative predictive value of these assays for predicting the absence of benefit from trastuzumab-based therapy is sufficiently high, their positive predictive value remains insufficient, i.e. only a proportion of patients selected by these tests substantially benefit from trastuzumab-containing regimen. Accordingly, over the last years a number of biomarkers have been evaluated in their potential to predict response to trastuzumab-based therapies. These include markers auf activation of Her-2/neu (e.g., tyrosine phosphorylated Her-2/neu in tissue and cleaved Her-2/neu extracellular domain in serum) and its dimerization partners (e.g., EGFR), respectively, but also components of Her-2/neu-induced downstream signaling pathways that are crucial for the growth inhibitory effects of trastuzumab (e.g., PTEN and PI3K). Other parameters, such as topoisomerase-II alpha and c-myc co-amplifications, have also been identified as potentially useful predictors of response to trastuzumab-based chemotherapy regimen. While the benefit of these predictive biomarkers in the metastatic setting is currently explored, their usefulness in the adjuvant setting is still largely unknown. It is, however, undisputable that, within the group of Her-2/neu overexpressing tumors, further response predictors are needed in order to minimize trastuzumab-associated side effects, and to reduce the considerable societal costs that are associated with trastuzumab-based treatment regimen.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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