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Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2012 Aug;135(1):39-48. doi: 10.1007/s10549-012-2067-8. Epub 2012 Apr 20.

Therapeutic implications of estrogen receptor signaling in HER2-positive breast cancers.

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Department of Pharmacology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.


There is considerable pre-clinical and clinical evidence demonstrating that HER2-positive breast cancers that express estrogen receptor (ER) exhibit intrinsic resistance to endocrine therapy. Therefore, in general, chemotherapy in combination with HER2-directed agents is recommended for all but the smallest HER2-positive early stage breast cancers regardless of ER status. This paradigm has recently come into question when responses to neo-adjuvant HER2-directed regimens were noted to vary based on ER expression, and pathologic complete response was noted not to be prognostic for ER-positive, HER2-positive breast cancers. These and other data suggest the possibility that a subset of HER2-positive, ER-positive breast cancers are driven primarily by ER, and biologically behave more like HER2-negative, ER-positive breast cancers. Identification of this subset of HER2-positive breast cancers is essential to avoid over-treatment of patients with small HER2-positive, ER-positive breast cancers, who may be optimally treated with endocrine therapy alone, or in combination with a HER2-directed agent, thereby avoiding the use of chemotherapy. Crosstalk between the ER and HER2 pathways has been established as playing a role in both intrinsic and acquired resistance to endocrine agents. Emerging data suggests that crosstalk between these pathways is also involved in resistance to HER2-directed agents. Unraveling the role of the ER pathway in resistance to HER2-directed agents could potentially result in therapeutic approaches that can improve outcome for patients with ER-positive, HER2-positive breast cancer.

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