Background: The standardization of the HER2 score and recent changes in therapeutic modalities points to the need for a reevaluation of the role of HER2 in recently diagnosed breast carcinoma. Patients and methods: A multicenter, retrospective study of 1794 primary breast carcinomas diagnosed in Italy in 2000/2001 and scored in HER2 four categories according to immunohistochemistry was conducted. Results: Ductal histotype, vascular invasion, grade, MIB1 positivity, estrogen and progesterone receptor expression differed significantly in HER2 3+ tumors compared with the other categories. HER2 2+ tumors almost showed values intermediate between those of the negative and the 3+ subgroups. The characteristics of HER2 1+ tumors were found to be in between those of HER2 0 and 2+ tumors. With a median follow-up of 54 months, HER2 3+ status was associated with higher relapse rates in node-positive and node-negative subgroups, while HER2 2+ only in node positive. Analysis of relapses according to type of therapy provided evidence of responsiveness of HER2-positive tumors to chemotherapy, especially taxanes. Conclusions: The present prognostic significance of HER2 is correlated to receptor expression level and points to the need to consider HER2 2+ and HER2 3+ tumors as distinct diseases with different outcomes and specific features.
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