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Lebeau, Annette (2006): HER2 testing in breast cancer: Opportunities and challenges. In: Breast Care, No. 2: pp. 69-76




Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) is overexpressed in 15-25% of breast cancers, usually as a result of HER2 gene amplification. Positive HER2 status is considered to be an adverse prognostic factor. Recognition of the role of HER2 in breast cancer growth has led to the development of anti-HER2 directed therapy, with the humanized monoclonal antibody trastuzumab (Herceptin (R)) having been approved for the therapy of HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. Clinical studies have further suggested that HER2 status can provide important information regarding success or failure of certain hormonal therapies or chemotherapies. As a result of these developments, there has been increasing demand to perform HER2 testing on current and archived breast cancer specimens. This article reviews the molecular background of HER2 function, activation and inhibition as well as current opinions concerning its role in chemosensitivity and interaction with estrogen receptor biology. The different tissue-based assays used to detect HER2 amplification and overexpression are discussed with respect to their advantages and disadvantages, when to test (at initial diagnosis or pre-treatment), where to test (locally or centralized) and the need for quality assurance to ensure accurate and valid testing results.