Erb-b2 receptor tyrosine kinase 2 (ERBB2; formerly HER2 [human epidermal growth factor receptor 2]) is an important prognostic and predictive factor in breast cancer. Anti-ERBB2 therapies have improved outcomes in ERBB2-positive breast cancer. However, based on current definitions, tumors with low ERBB2 expression are included in the ERBB2-negative subtype, and therefore, are ineligible for anti-ERBB2 therapies; patients with ERBB2-low (immunohistochemistry [IHC] 1 positive [+] or IHC 2+/in situ hybridization [ISH] negative [−]) tumors account for up to approximately 50% of breast cancer cases. Although the prognostic role of ERBB2-low needs to be defined, ERBB2 offers a potential therapeutic target in these patients.
Most breast cancer tumors have some ERBB2 expression, with ERBB2-low being more common in hormone receptor–positive than in hormone receptor–negative breast cancer. Although an early clinical study failed to demonstrate benefit of adjuvant trastuzumab for ERBB2-low disease, several novel anti-ERBB2 therapies have shown efficacy in ERBB2-low breast cancer, including the antibody-drug conjugate trastuzumab deruxtecan in a phase 3 trial, and trastuzumab duocarmazine and the bispecific antibody zenocutuzumab in early-phase studies. Although reports are conflicting, some differences in biology and patient outcomes have been found between ERBB2-low and ERBB2 IHC-0 breast cancer. Currently, no established guidelines exist for scoring ERBB2-low expression in breast cancer because the focus has been on binary classification as ERBB2-positive or ERBB2-negative. Additional interpretive cutoffs may be needed to select patients for treatment with effective agents in ERBB2-low breast cancer, along with standardized laboratory quality assurance programs to ensure consistent patient identification for eligibility for ERBB2-low targeting agents.
Conclusions and Relevance
This review suggests that ERBB2-low may be a distinct, clinically relevant breast cancer entity warranting reassessment of traditional diagnostic and therapeutic paradigms. Ongoing clinical trials and further investigations may provide optimized strategies for diagnosing and treating ERBB2-low breast cancer, including reproducible, consistent definitions to identify patients in this diagnostic category and demonstration of benefits of emerging therapies.
Prat A, Bardia A, Curigliano G, et al. An Overview of Clinical Development of Agents for Metastatic or Advanced Breast Cancer Without ERBB2 Amplification (HER2-Low). JAMA Oncol. 2022;8(11):1676–1687. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2022.4175
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