Background: Endocrine resistant metastatic disease develops in ~ 20–25% of hormone-receptor-positive (HR+) breast cancer (BC) patients despite endocrine therapy (ET) use. Upregulation of HER family receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) represent escape mechanisms in response to ET in some HR+ tumors. Short-term neoadjuvant ET (NET) offers the opportunity to identify early endocrine escape mechanisms initiated in individual tumors. Methods: This was a single arm, interventional phase II clinical trial evaluating 4 weeks (± 1 week) of NET in patients with early-stage HR+/HER2-negative (HER2-) BC. The primary objective was to assess NET-induced changes in HER1-4 proteins by immunohistochemistry (IHC) score. Protein upregulation was defined as an increase of ≥ 1 in IHC score following NET. Results: Thirty-seven patients with cT1-T3, cN0, HR+/HER2- BC were enrolled. In 35 patients with evaluable tumor HER protein after NET, HER2 was upregulated in 48.6% (17/35; p = 0.025), with HER2-positive status (IHC 3+ or FISH-amplified) detected in three patients at surgery, who were recommended adjuvant trastuzumab-based therapy. Downregulation of HER3 and/or HER4 protein was detected in 54.2% of tumors, whereas HER1 protein remained low and unchanged in all cases. While no significant volumetric reduction was detected radiographically after short-term NET, significant reduction in tumor proliferation rates were observed. No significant associations were identified between any clinicopathologic covariates and changes in HER1-4 protein expression on multivariable analysis. Conclusion: Short-term NET frequently and preferentially upregulates HER2 over other HER family RTKs in early-stage HR+/HER2- BC and may be a promising strategy to identify tumors that utilize HER2 as an early endocrine escape pathway. Clinical trial registry: Trial registration number: NCT03219476.
- Breast cancer
- Endocrine resistance
- Estrogen receptor
- Short-term neoadjuvant endocrine treatment