Change in HER2 (ERBB2) gene status after taxane-based chemotherapy for breast cancer: polyploidization can lead to diagnostic pitfalls with potential impact for clinical management
The status of the HER2 (ERBB2) gene in breast cancer is not static and may change among the primary tumor, lymph node metastases, and distant metastases. This status change can be a consequence of the natural evolution of the tumor or can be induced by therapy. The HER2 gene status is, in the majority of cases, established at the moment of diagnosis. After chemotherapy, monitoring HER2 status can be a challenge because of ploidy changes induced by drugs. The cytogeneticist or the pathologist can face real difficulties in distinguishing between a true HER2 amplification and HER2 copy number increase by polyploidization. We performed a HER2 genetic examination by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) of invasive breast cancers before and after taxane treatment. The majority of patients (91%) were HER2-negative both at diagnosis and after treatment. Thirty of 344 patients (9%) whose tumors were initially HER2-negative were found by FISH to have supernumerary HER2 gene copies (up to 15 copies) after neoadjuvant chemotherapy. This HER2 copy increase could not be attributed to true gene amplifications and instead reflected polyploidization events, which presumably affected all chromosomes. Indeed, when we used other FISH probes, we found other gene copy numbers to parallel those of HER2. We recommend careful checking of invasive breast carcinomas by supplementary FISH probes if the copy number of the HER2 gene is >6. This procedure allows the discrimination of specific HER2 gene amplifications and global increases in ploidy.