A friend of mine has HER2-positive breast cancer. Can you tell me what this means?
Answer From Karthik Giridhar, M.D.
HER2-positive breast cancer is a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). This protein promotes the growth of cancer cells.
In about 1 of every 5 breast cancers, the cancer cells have extra copies of the gene that makes the HER2 protein. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer.
Treatments that specifically target HER2 are very effective. These treatments are so effective that the prognosis for HER2-positive breast cancer is actually quite good.
Certain standard chemotherapy drugs also can be effective in treating HER2-positive breast cancers, although these drugs don't specifically target the HER2 protein.
Experts recommend that every invasive breast cancer be tested for the presence of HER2 because the results significantly impact treatment recommendations and decisions. HER2 testing is not done routinely for ductal carcinoma in situ, except as part of a clinical trial.
Whenever breast cancer recurs or spreads, the cancer cells should be retested for HER2 as well as for hormone receptor status, as these can change from the original diagnosis.
Karthik Giridhar, M.D.
April 23, 2022
- Yamauchi H, et al. HER2 and predicting response to therapy in breast cancer. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 23, 2020.
- Waks AG, et al. Breast cancer treatment: A review. JAMA. 2019; doi:doi:10.1001/jama.2018.19323.
- Ahn S, et al. HER2 status in breast cancer: Changes in guidelines and complicating factors for interpretation. Journal of Pathology and Translational Medicine. 2020;54:34.
- Giridhar K (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. March 6, 2020.