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Oncologist. 2011;16(11):1535-46. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2011-0165. Epub 2011 Oct 21.

Integrating molecular mechanisms and clinical evidence in the management of trastuzumab resistant or refractory HER-2⁺ metastatic breast cancer.

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Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine, Queen Mary Hospital, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.


Human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER)-2(+) breast cancer is a distinct molecular and clinical entity, the prognosis of which is improved by trastuzumab. However, primary resistance to trastuzumab is observed in >50% of patients with HER-2(+) advanced breast cancer, and the majority of patients who initially respond to treatment eventually develop disease progression. To facilitate crosstrial comparisons and the understanding of resistance mechanisms, we propose a unifying definition of trastuzumab resistance as progression at first radiological reassessment at 8-12 weeks or within 3 months after first-line trastuzumab in the metastatic setting or new recurrences diagnosed during or within 12 months after adjuvant trastuzumab. In contrast, we define trastuzumab-refractory breast cancer as disease progression after two or more lines of trastuzumab-containing regimens that initially achieved disease response or stabilization at first radiological assessment. We review mechanisms of trastuzumab resistance mediated by p95HER-2 overexpression, phosphoinositide 3-kinase pathway activation, and signaling pathway activation driven by HER-3, epidermal growth factor receptor, and insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor. We distinguish in vitro from in vivo evidence, highlighting that most data describing trastuzumab resistance are derived from preclinical studies or small retrospective patient cohorts, and discuss targeted therapeutic approaches to overcome resistance. Prospective analysis through clinical trials with robust tissue collection procedures, prior to and following acquisition of resistance, integrated with next-generation tumor genome sequencing technologies, is identified as a priority area for development. The identification of predictive biomarkers is of paramount importance to optimize health economic costs and enhance stratification of anti-HER-2 targeted therapies.

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