Clinical Edge Journal Scan

Commentary: HER2+-targeted therapy, ovarian suppression, and adjuvant therapy in breast cancer, February 2023

Dr. Roesch scans the journals, so you don't have to!

Author and Disclosure Information


Erin Roesch, MD

Standard first-line therapy for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 positive (HER2+, ERBB2+) metastatic breast cancer (MBC) includes dual-HER2 blockade (trastuzumab + pertuzumab) in combination with a taxane.1,2 Differences according to hormone receptor status within HER2+ MBC have been demonstrated in clinicopathologic features, survival, and treatment response. In a French retrospective cohort study including 4145 women with ERBB2+ MBC, those with hormone receptor positive (HR+)/ERBB2+ MBC less often had grade 3 tumors or visceral metastases and had better survival outcomes compared with HR-/ERBB2+ tumors. Among 1723 patients with HR+/ERBB2+ MBC, there was no significant difference in overall survival (OS) (hazard ratio 1.03; P = .80) or progression-free survival (hazard ratio 1.00; P > .99) for patients receiving ERBB2-targeted therapy with chemotherapy with or without endocrine therapy (n = 1502) compared with those receiving ERBB2-targeted therapy with endocrine therapy only (n = 203) regardless of type of ERBB2-targeted therapy (Carausu et al). A recently published phase 3 randomized trial conducted in China demonstrated that trastuzumab plus endocrine therapy was noninferior to trastuzumab plus chemotherapy in patients with HR+/HER2+ MBC.3 These studies imply a unique biology of HR+/HER2+ MBC, highlight endocrine therapy benefit in this population, and suggest chemotherapy-free regimens may be considered for a subset of these patients achieving similar efficacy and sparing toxicities.

The elevated risk for recurrence in young women with HR+ early breast cancer highlights the importance of aggressive endocrine therapy in the majority of patients in this population. Examples of approaches to maximize endocrine therapy benefit include the addition of ovarian suppression to either tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor (AI) as well as an extended duration of adjuvant endocrine therapy.4,5 Among 3047 premenopausal women included in SOFT study, at 12 years follow-up, the addition of ovarian function suppression (OFS) to tamoxifen significantly improved disease-free survival (DFS) compared with tamoxifen alone (hazard ratio 0.82; P = .03) with a more pronounced DFS benefit with exemestane plus OFS compared with tamoxifen (hazard ratio 0.69) (Francis et al). In the HER2- subgroup, those who received prior chemotherapy had 12-year OFS rates of 78.8% with tamoxifen, 81.1% with tamoxifen plus OFS and 84.4% with exemestane plus OFS. Furthermore, in the HER2- subgroup, women younger than 35 years had absolute improvements in 12-year OS of 9.1% with tamoxifen plus OFS and 16.5% with exemestane plus OFS compared with tamoxifen. These updated results provide further support for OFS added to tamoxifen or an AI (with more benefit seen with an AI) in the treatment of HR+ early breast cancer in young women who are at high risk for recurrence. Longer follow-up will be important to better define the treatment effect considering recurrence patterns for this subtype of breast cancer.

Various guidelines recommend the use of adjuvant bisphosphonates for postmenopausal patients with early breast cancer on the basis of disease-free and bone metastasis-free survival benefits.6 A regimen of zolendronic acid every 6 months for 3 years is commonly used in clinical practice. A substudy of ABCSG-12, including 725 premenopausal patients with HR+ early breast cancer on ovarian suppression randomly assigned to receive tamoxifen or anastrozole with or without zolendronic acid every 6 months, investigated the effect of shorter duration of bisphosphonate therapy on breast cancer outcomes (Beltran-Bless et al). After a median follow-up of 96 months, there was no statistically significant difference in DFS (hazard ratio 0.88; log-rank P = .642) or OS (stratified hazard ratio 1.16; log-rank P = .796) between patients who received ≤6 or ≥7 infusions. Rates of adverse events were increased in the patients who received ≥7 or ≤6 infusions (arthralgia, 20.1% vs 12.4%; nausea, 12.8% vs 7.3%; bone pain, 41.6% vs 34.9%). Modifications to adjuvant breast cancer regimens that can provide more ease for patients with less toxicity while maintaining efficacy are greatly desired to simultaneously support quality of life and disease outcomes.

Additional References

  1. Swain SM, Baselga J, Kim SB, et al; for the CLEOPATRA Study Group. Pertuzumab, trastuzumab, and docetaxel in HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. N Engl J Med. 2015;372:724-734. Doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1413513
  2. Miles D, Ciruelos E, Schneeweiss A, et al; for the PERUSE investigators. Final results from the PERUSE study of first-line pertuzumab plus trastuzumab plus a taxane for HER2-positive locally recurrent or metastatic breast cancer, with a multivariable approach to guide prognostication. Ann Oncol. 2021;32:1245-1255. Doi: 10.1016/j.annonc.2021.06.024
  3. Hua X, Bi X-W, Zhao J-L, et al; for the South China Breast Cancer Group (SCBCG). Trastuzumab plus endocrine therapy or chemotherapy as first-line treatment for patients with hormone receptor-positive and HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer (SYSUCC-002). Clin Cancer Res. 2022;28:637-645. Doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-21-3435
  4. Kim H-A, Lee JW, Nam SJ, et al; for the Korean Breast Cancer Study Group. Adding ovarian suppression to tamoxifen for premenopausal breast Cancer: a randomized phase III trial. J Clin Oncol. 2020;38:434-443. Doi: 10.1200/JCO.19.00126
  5. Davies C, Pan H, Godwin J, et al; for the Adjuvant Tamoxifen: Longer Against Shorter (ATLAS) Collaborative Group. Long-term effects of continuing adjuvant tamoxifen to 10 years versus stopping at 5 years after diagnosis of oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancer: ATLAS, a randomised trial. Lancet. 2013;381:805-816. Doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61963-1
  6. Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group (EBCTCG). Adjuvant bisphosphonate treatment in early breast cancer: meta-analyses of individual patient data from randomised trials. Lancet. 2015;386:1353-1361. Doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60908-4

Recommended Reading