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The HER2 paradox: HER2-positive stem cells found in HER2-negative breast cancer
Date:12/14/2012

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) A multicenter study led by researchers at UC Davis describes new, paradoxical characteristics of the most common type of breast cancer. The findings shed light on how the disease can evade treatment and could improve diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

The research, led by Jian Jian Li, director of translational research in the UC Davis Department of Radiation Oncology, examined breast tumors previously thought to lack the HER2 protein, which, when over-expressed, is associated with disease recurrence. Instead, researchers found in the tumors small groups of aggressive, treatment-resistant HER2-positive breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs). The findings will be published Dec. 15 in Clinical Cancer Research.

"These BSCSs are very resistant to traditional treatments, which can lead patients to relapse," said Li, the study lead author. "Despite chemotherapy, radiotherapy or even surgery, the cancer is still recurrent. These findings change our concept of breast cancer because now we know HER2-negative breast cancers can be treated effectively with anti-HER2 treatments."

In the past decade scientists and clinicians have developed a better understanding of how breast cancers differ on the cellular level. Whether a tumor contains HER2, an estrogen receptor protein, a progesterone receptor protein or all three or none can have an enormous impact on the tumor's aggressiveness, the patient's overall prognosis and treatment choices.

HER2-positive breast cancers are routinely treated with drugs that target the HER2 protein, such as Herceptin or Tykerb, with good results. However, until recently, there has been little reason to administer these targeted treatments to patients with HER2-negative cancer.

The team, which included researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, Emory University School of M
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Contact: Dorsey Griffith
dorsey.griffith@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu
916-734-9118
University of California - Davis Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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