Case-Based Review

Genomic Testing in Women with Early-Stage Hormone Receptor–Positive, HER2-Negative Breast Cancer



Due to the risk for later recurrences with HR-positive breast cancer, more patients and oncologists are considering extended endocrine therapy. This is based on results from the ATLAS (Adjuvant Tamoxifen: Longer Against Shorter) and aTTOM (Adjuvant Tamoxifen–To Offer More?) studies, both of which showed that women with HR-positive breast cancer who continued tamoxifen for 10 years had a lower late recurrence rate and a lower breast cancer mortality rate compared with those who stopped at 5 years.46,47 Furthermore, the NCIC MA.17 trial evaluated extended endocrine therapy in postmenopausal women with 5 years of letrozole following 5 years of tamoxifen. Letrozole was shown to improve both disease-free and distant disease-free survival. The overall survival benefit was limited to patients with node-positive disease.48 A summary of studies of extended endocrine therapy for HR-positive breast cancers is shown in Table 2.2,3,46–49

However, extending AI therapy from 5 years to 10 years is not clearly beneficial. In the MA.17R trial, although longer AI therapy resulted in significantly better disease-free survival (95% versus 91%, hazard ratio 0.66, P = 0.01), this was primarily due to a lower incidence of contralateral breast cancer in those taking the AI compared with placebo. The distant recurrence risks were similar and low (4.4% versus 5.5%), and there was no overall survival difference.2 Also, the NSABP B-42 study, which was presented at the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, did not meet its predefined endpoint for benefit from extending adjuvant AI therapy with letrozole beyond 5 years.3 Thus, the absolute benefit from extended endocrine therapy has been modest across these studies. Although endocrine therapy is considered relatively safe and well tolerated, side effects can be significant and even associated with morbidity. Ideally, extended endocrine therapy should be offered to the subset of patients who would benefit the most. Several genomic diagnostic assays, including the EndoPredict test, PAM50, and the Breast Cancer Index (BCI) tests, specifically assess the risk for late recurrence in HR-positive cancers.


Studies suggest that the ROR score also has value in predicting late recurrences. Analysis of data in patients enrolled in the ABCSG-8 trial showed that ROR could identify patients with endocrine-sensitive disease who are at low risk for late relapse and could be spared from unwanted toxicities of extended endocrine therapies. In 1246 ABCSG-8 patients between years 5 and 15, the PAM50 ROR demonstrated an absolute risk of distant recurrence of 2.4% in the low-risk group, as compared with 17.5% in the high-risk group.50 Also, a combined analysis of patients from both the ATAC and ABCSG-8 trials demonstrated the utility of ROR in identifying this subgroup of patients with low risk for late relapse.51


EndoPredict is another quantitative RT-PCR–based assay which uses FFPE tissues to calculate a risk score based on 8 cancer-related and 3 reference genes. The score is combined with clinicopathological factors including tumor size and nodal status to make a comprehensive risk score (EPclin). EPclin is used to dichotomize patients into EndoPredict low- and high-risk groups. EndoPredict has been validated in 2 cohorts of patients enrolled in separate randomized studies, ABCSG-6 and ABCSG-8. EP provided prognostic information beyond clinicopathological variables to predict distant recurrence in patients with HR-positive/HER2-negative early breast cancer.37 More important, EndoPredict has been shown to predict early (years 0–5) versus late (> 5 years after diagnosis) recurrences and identify a low-risk subset of patients who would not be expected to benefit from further treatment beyond 5 years of endocrine therapy.52 Recently, EndoPredict and EPclin were compared with the 21-gene (Oncotype DX) recurrence score in a patient population from the TransATAC study. Both EndoPredict and EPclin provided more prognostic information compared to the 21-gene recurrence score and identified early and late relapse events.53 EndoPredict is the first multigene expression assay that could be routinely performed in decentralized molecular pathological laboratories with a short turnaround time.54

Breast Cancer Index

The BCI is a RT-PCR–based gene expression assay that consists of 2 gene expression biomarkers: molecular grade index (MGI) and HOXB13/IL17BR (H/I). The BCI was developed as a prognostic test to assess risk for breast cancer recurrence using a cohort of ER-positive patients (n = 588) treated with adjuvant tamoxifen versus observation from the prospective randomized Stockholm trial.38 In this blinded retrospective study, H/I and MGI were measured and a continuous risk model (BCI) was developed in the tamoxifen-treated group. More than 50% of the patients in this group were classified as having a low risk of recurrence. The rate of distant recurrence or death in this low-risk group at 10 years was less than 3%. The performance of the BCI model was then tested in the untreated arm of the Stockholm trial. In the untreated arm, BCI classified 53%, 27%, and 20% of patients as low, intermediate, and high risk, respectively. The rate of distant metastasis at 10 years in these risk groups was 8.3% (95% CI 4.7% to 14.4%), 22.9% (95% CI 14.5% to 35.2%), and 28.5% (95% CI 17.9% to 43.6%), respectively, and the rate of breast cancer–specific mortality was 5.1% (95% CI 1.3% to 8.7%), 19.8% (95% CI 10.0% to 28.6%), and 28.8% (95% CI 15.3% to 40.2%).38

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