What is HER2-positive breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in the United States. Based on what type of proteins of breast cells are responsible for breast cancer, breast cancer is divided into two types:
- Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive breast cancer
- HER2-negative cancer or hormone-receptive breast cancer (either estrogen-receptive or progesterone receptive cancer)
The HER2 is a kind of protein found on the surface of breast cells. It is involved in the normal growth of breast cells. The HER2 gene controls the production of the HER2 protein. When there is a defect in this gene, it makes more than the required copies of HER2. Excess of HER2 results in overgrowth of breast cells, giving rise to HER2 positive cancer. More the copies of the HER2 gene, the more aggressive is the HER2-positive breast cancer.
When you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, doctors check if you have HER2-positive breast cancer or HER2-negative cancer. The type of breast cancer diagnosed is based on tests that check for the presence of overexpression of HER2 protein in the breast tissue. If the test is positive, it means you have HER2-positive cancer; if the test results are negative, it means you have HER2-negative cancer. HER2-negative cancer means either you have estrogen-positive cancer or progesterone-positive cancer.
Nearly one in five women with breast cancer have HER2-positive breast cancer.
How is HER2-positive breast cancer diagnosed?
Doctors use a surgical procedure known as breast biopsy to determine the HER2 status of your breast cancer. It involves the removal of the cancerous portion from the breast tissue. The biopsy is sent for laboratory testing to measure either HER2 protein breast cancer cells or extra copies of the HER2 gene, or both. HER2-positive breast cancer means either you have extra HER2 proteins or extra copies of the HER2 gene or both; its absence suggests you have HER2-negative cancer. Further testing can help identify whether it is estrogen-positive or progesterone-positive cancer.
You may even get your biopsy report as triple-negative cancer or triple-positive cancer. Triple-negative breast cancers are negative for HER2, estrogen, and progesterone whereas triple-positive breast cancers are positive for all three.
Is HER2-positive breast cancer good or bad?
HER2-positive cancer tends to be poorer in terms of prognosis than HER2-negative cancer because:
- It grows faster.
- It is more likely to spread to the lymph nodes fast.
- It is at least two times more likely to return than HER2-negative tumors.
The reason behind the entire concept of testing for HER2 status is to decide the kind of treatment. Some drugs have been developed to specifically target HER2-positive breast cancer. This kind of treatment is known as targeted therapy and in this case, it is referred to as HER2-targeted therapy.
HER2-negative breast cancer, particularly estrogen-positive breast cancer benefits from hormonal therapy, but this same hormonal therapy does not work for HER2-positive cancer.
Before the use of HER2-targeted drugs in the treatment of HER2-positive cancer, the chances of survival were not as good as they were for HER2-negative breast cancer. Thanks to these drugs, the prognosis for HER2-positive breast cancer has changed from bad to good.
The HER2-targeted drugs include:
A study showed that a combination of Herceptin (trastuzumab) and chemotherapy is more effective than chemotherapy alone. The combined approach works by slowing down the growth of HER2-positive breast cancer. For some, the use of Herceptin with chemotherapy has increased the disease-free years of survival.
Every breast cancer is different. The survival rates can also predict how long you are likely to live with the disease. Remember, it may happen HER2-positive cancer may become HER2-negative after it recurs. Whether it is HER2-positive cancer or HER2-negative cancer, the prognosis also depends on the size of the breast tumor. Based on your tumor size, response to cancer therapy, and preferences, your doctor will plan a treatment tailored to your needs. Make sure you follow all their instructions carefully and follow up with them as scheduled.
Chalasani P. Breast Cancer Treatment & Management. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1947145-treatment
Top Is HER2-Positive Good or Bad? Related Articles
Breast cancer is an invasive tumor that develops in the mammary gland. Breast cancer is detected via mammograms, breast self-examination (BSE), biopsy, and specialized testing on breast cancer tissue. Treatment of breast cancer may involve surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Breast cancer risk may be lowered by managing controllable risk factors.
What you should know about breast cancer
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women.
- One in every eight women in the United States develops breast cancer.
- There are many types of breast cancer that differ in their capability of spreading (metastasize) to other body tissues.
- The causes of breast cancer are unknown, although medical professionals have identified a number of risk factors.
- There are 11 common types of breast cancer and 4 uncommon types of breast cancer.
- Breast cancer early signs and symptoms include
- a lump in the breast or armpit,
- bloody nipple discharge,
- inverted nipple,
- orange-peel texture or dimpling of the breast's skin (peau d'orange),
- breast pain or sore nipple,
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck or armpit, and
- a change in the size or shape of the breast or nipple.
- Breast cancer can also be symptom free, which makes following national screening recommendations an important practice.
- Breast cancer is diagnosed during a physical exam, by a self-exam of the breasts, mammography, ultrasound testing, and biopsy.
- Treatment of breast cancer depends on the type of cancer and its stage (0-IV) and may involve surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
Young Women & Breast CancerIs breast cancer genetic? Should I get tested for the BRCA gene? What every young women should know about breast cancer. Discover the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and other crucial breast cancer facts.
Where Breast Cancer SpreadsWhen breast cancer spreads, or metastasizes, it often goes to these five places: the lymph nodes, bones, liver, lungs, and brain. See how breast cancer metastasis affects the body, possible symptoms, and treatment.
Breast Cancer SlidesLearn about breast cancer causes, symptoms, tests, recovery, and prevention. Discover the types of treatments such as surgery and drug therapies as well as the survival rate for breast cancer.
Breast Cancer PreventionLifestyle changes, a healthy antioxidant-rich diet, exercise, and weight reduction can help reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. It's important to be aware of how risk factors such as family history, lifestyle factors, breast conditions, radiation therapy, and hormonal factors may influence your chances of developing breast cancer. Mammography and breast self-examinations are crucial steps in breast cancer prevention.
What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor About Breast Cancer?A diagnosis of breast cancer can be overwhelming, so it's important to write down all your questions before meeting with your doctor.
Breast Cancer QuizThis Breast Cancer Quiz features signs, symptoms, facts, causes, common forms, terms, risk factors, statistics, and more. Increase your awareness of breast cancer now!
Breast Cancer RecurrenceBreast cancer most often recurs within the first 3-5 years after the initial treatment. Changes in the look, feel, or appearance of the breast may indicate breast cancer recurrence. Factors related to recurrence include tumor size, tumor grade, hormone receptor status, lymph node involvement, and oncogene expression. Check out the center below for more medical references on breast cancer, including multimedia (slideshows, images, and quizzes), related diseases, treatment, diagnosis, medications, and prevention or wellness.
Breast Cancer Early Warning Signs and SymptomsIn most cases, there are no early warning signs of breast cancer. Breast cancer may not produce any early symptoms, and in many cases, it is first discovered on screening mammography. The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast.
What Should I Know About Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer of American women, but it can also occur in men. Every year in the U.S., there are over 266,000 new diagnoses of breast cancer. A woman has a risk of one in eight for developing breast cancer at some point during her lifetime.
Can HER2-Positive Breast Cancer Be Cured?HER2-positive breast cancer is associated with cancer cells that have extra copies of the HER2 gene and produce extra HER2 receptor proteins. With recent advances in medicine, it is considered that HER2-positive breast cancer is curable.
Inflammatory Breast CancerInflammatory breast cancer is an accelerated form of breast cancer that is not usually detected by mammogram or ultrasound. Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include pain in the breast, skin change in the breast area, bruise on the breast,sudden swelling of the breast, nipple retraction or discharge, and swelling of the lymph nodes.
Male Breast CancerMale breast cancer accounts for 1% of all breast cancers, and most cases are found in men between the ages of 60 and 70. A man's risk of developing breast cancer is one in 1,000. Signs and symptoms include a firm mass located below the nipple and skin changes around the nipple, including puckering, redness or scaling, retraction and ulceration of the nipple. Treatment depends upon staging and the health of the patient.
Breast Cancer: Visual Guide to Male Breast CancerBreast cancer isn't just a woman's disease. Learn about the symptoms and treatment of male breast cancer, and find out what can put you at risk for this cancer.
What Were Your First Signs of Inflammatory Breast Cancer?Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare but rapidly growing cancer that gives rise to several signs and symptoms, mostly within a span of three to six months. One of the first signs is most likely to be visible swelling (edema) of the skin of the breast and/or redness of the breast (covers more than 30 percent of the breast).