HER-2/neu protooncogene amplification and protein expression were analyzed with slot blot and Western blot techniques, respectively, in more than 300 invasive primary breast tumors of all stages. Amplification (2- <30 copies) was found in 17% of these tumors and high expression was seen in 19%. There was a striking coincidence between gene amplification and high expression. Tumors associated with many involved axillary lymph nodes or with Stage IV disease were more often HER-2/neu amplified or overexpressed. Furthermore, gene alteration was strongly correlated with the absence of steroid receptors and with larger tumor size. High expression without gene amplification was seen in a minor subset of tumors of less aggressive character. Neither amplification nor overexpression was correlated with disease outcome for patients with negative axillary lymph nodes. For node-positive patients, however, HER-2/neu amplification was a significant predictor of early relapse and death (median follow-up = 45 months), and a similar trend, although not significant, existed for high gene expression. Multivariate analyses indicated that HER-2/neu alterations were not independent predictors of patient outcome.
Supported in part by Fru Berta Kamprads Foundation, John and Augusta Perssons Foundation, Swedish Cancer Society, NIH Grant CA 30195, and American Cancer Society Grant IN-11;61.