HER-2/neu is a growth factor receptor, the expression of which has been associated with a more aggressive breast tumor biology and resistance to some types of chemotherapy. Preliminary laboratory and clinical data have led to claims that HER-2/neu expression is also associated with resistance to tamoxifen. Therefore, to test the hypothesis that HER-2/neu expression is associated with a poorer response to tamoxifen, a shorter time to treatment failure (TTF), and worse survival in estrogen receptor (ER)-positive metastatic breast cancer, we examined 205 paraffin-embedded blocks of tumors from patients enrolled on Southwest Oncology Group 8228 for HER-2/neu expression. Tumors were ER positive (ER level > 3 fmol/mg cytosolic protein in either primary tumors or metastases), and patients had not received any prior therapy for metastatic disease. All patients were treated with daily tamoxifen. The study began in 1982, and median follow-up of patients who are still alive is now 9 years. Membrane staining for HER-2/neu was evaluated by immunohistochemistry using antibody TAB 250 and was scored according to the proportion of cells staining positive; tumors were deemed positive if > 1% of the cells stained for HER-2/neu. HER-2/neu positivity was associated with lower ER values (P = 0.04) and low bcl-2 (P = 0.01). HER-2/neu positivity was not significantly associated with response rate (negative versus positive, 57 versus 54%; P = 0.67), TTF (median, 8 versus 6 months; P = 0.15), or survival (median, 31 versus 29 months; P = 0.36). There was also no significant evidence of a progressive relationship between an increasing proportion of cells expressing HER-2/neu and a shorter TTF or survival. HER-2/neu expression in ER-positive metastatic breast cancer is not significantly associated with a poorer response to tamoxifen or a more aggressive clinical course. Earlier suggestions to the contrary may have been due to failure to rigorously exclude ER-negative tumors, which are much less likely to respond to tamoxifen and more likely to have high HER-2/neu levels.