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According to an early online publication in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, amplified expression of the human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) is associated with more aggressive cancer and worse survival among patients with endometrial cancer.

Endometrial cancer refers to cancer of the uterus, or womb. Endometrial cancer is the most frequently diagnosed gynecologic cancer in the U.S. Fortunately, long-term survival rates are high for endometrial cancers that are detected and treated early.

Unfortunately, certain women diagnosed with endometrial cancer tend to have worse outcomes than others. In order to individualize treatment, researchers continue to evaluate possible variables associated with differences in outcomes.

The HER2 receptor is involved in cellular growth and replication. Some cancers over-express HER2 on the surface of their cells, which is thought to play a role in the growth and/or spread of the cancer.

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Herceptin® (trastuzumab) is a monoclonal antibody that is approved for advanced breast cancer with over-expression of HER2; it is designed to target the HER2 receptor. Herceptin reduces or prevents the activity of HER2, ultimately slowing the growth of breast cancer. Herceptin, as well as other agents targeting HER2, are being evaluated in clinical trials for the treatment of various cancers.

Researchers from several medical institutions in the U.S. recently conducted a study to evaluate the possible relationship between HER2 expression and endometrial cancer outcomes. This study included 483 women diagnosed with different stages and types of endometrial cancer; they were tested for HER2 expression. Researchers determined the following:

  • Patients with cancer that over-expressed HER2 had a significantly worse prognosis than those whose cancers did not express HER2.
  • Median overall survival was 5.2 years for patients with over-expression of HER2, 3.5 years for patients with expression of HER2, and 13 years for patients who did not express HER2 on their cancers.
  • Over-expression of HER2 was more common among more aggressive cancers.

The researchers concluded that over-expression of HER2 appears to play a significant role in the nature of endometrial cancer and patient outcomes. Future trials are needed to determine if treatment including Herceptin or other agents that target HER2 may improve outcomes for patients with endometrial cancer that over-expresses HER2.

Reference: Morrison C, Zanagnolo V, Ramirez N, et al. HER2 Is an Independent Prognostic Factor in Endometrial Cancer: Association With Outcome in a Large Cohort of Surgically Staged Patients. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2006; 24: 2376-2385.