Using a polyclonal antibody that is monospecific for the erbB-2 oncogene product, an immunohistochemical study of the expression of erbB-2 protein was performed in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue sections from 260 primary gastric cancers. erbB-2 protein expression in which the reaction was localized to the cell membranes was observed in 31 (11.9%) cancers. All nontumor cells and normal gastric epithelium were negative for membrane staining. There was not a significant association between erbB-2 staining and histological type or venous invasion. erbB-2 protein expression was associated with serosal invasion, lymph node metastasis, and lymphatic invasion. In addition, erbB-2 protein expression correlated with a high number of lymph node metastases. Furthermore, the risk of recurrence in lymph node was over 3 times higher in patients with erbB-2 protein-positive tumors than in those with erbB-2 protein-negative ones. When erbB-2 protein expression and the clinical parameters were entered simultaneously into the Cox regression model, erbB-2 protein expression emerged as an independent prognostic indicator. Patients with erbB-2 protein-positive tumors had 5-fold greater relative risk of death, as compared with those with erbB-2 protein-negative tumors. These results indicate that erbB-2 protein expression is an important independent prognostic indicator in gastric cancer. The high malignant potential of erbB-2 protein-positive tumors may be associated with the very high potential for lymph node metastasis.

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