Currently, the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) status of breast cancer is classified dichotomously as negative or positive to select patients for HER2-targeted therapy. However, with the introduction of novel treatment options, it is important to get more insight in the biology of cancers with low HER2 expression. Therefore, we studied several clinicopathologic characteristics in relation to the level of HER2 expression (HER2- versus HER2low). We used a well-documented cohort of breast cancer patients (n = 529), with available tissue microarrays and Affymetrix mRNA expression data. HER2 status was scored as negative (immunohistochemistry 0) or low (immunohistochemistry 1 + or 2 + without amplification). We associated HER2 status with several clinicopathologic characteristics, gene-expression data and survival, stratified for estrogen receptor (ER) status. Overall, breast cancers were scored as HER2- (n = 429) or HER2low (n = 100). Within the ER+ cohort (n = 305), no significant associations were found between the HER2 groups and clinicopathologic features. However, HER2low tumors showed several differentially expressed genes compared to HER2- cases, including genes that are associated with worse outcome and depletion of immunity. In ER- cases (n = 224), HER2low status was significantly associated with increased regional nodal positivity, lower density of tumor infiltrating lymphocyte and a lower protein expression of Ki-67 and EGFR compared to HER2- cases. After multivariate analysis, only density of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes remained significantly associated with HER2low status (P = 0.035). No difference in survival was observed between HER2low and HER2- patients, neither in the ER+ nor ER- cohort. In conclusion, our data suggests that HER2low breast cancer is associated with a lower immune response compared to HER2- breast cancer.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding for this research was received from AstraZeneca.
Publisher Copyright: © 2022, The Author(s).