In recent studies, we and others demonstrated that MBCs frequently overexpress EGFR and lack HER2 overexpression. In a previous study [26
] we demonstrated that up to 83% of all MBCs show EGFR overexpression. Leibl and Moinfar [12
] described positivity for EGFR in 70% of MBCs, but those authors also considered cases with grade 1+ expression to be positive. When only grade 2+ and 3+ expression was considered to represent positivity, 60% (12/20) were positive. In the present study we demonstrated that 76% (19/25) of MBCs overexpressed EGFR. The differences between our findings and those of Leibl and Moinfar [12
] may be related to the different antibody clones used and different antigen retrieval methods.
The mechanism underlying EGFR overexpression has not been investigated in MBCs. In the present study we demonstrated that EGFR
is amplified in 28% (7/25) of MBCs and in 37% (7/19) of MBCs with EGFR overexpression. Although only six cases with heterologous elements (four matrix producing carcinomas and two carcinomas with heterologous elements) were analyxed, no amplification was found in these two subtypes of MBC. Identification of areas of squamous differentiation in spindle cell carcinomas and the presence of spindle cells in carcinomas with squamous metaplasia are not infrequent. In fact, in the seminal study conducted by Huvos and coworkers [32
] these two subtypes of MBCs were classified under the heading 'group 1' MBCs. In addition, when EGFR is overexpressed in carcinomas with heterologous elements and matrix producing breast carcinomas, its expression appears to be more conspicuous in epithelial components (data not shown). In a recent study, Bhargava and coworkers [8
] demonstrated that 6% (11/175) of all breast carcinomas exhibit EGFR
amplification. Interestingly, one of these 11 cases was a spindle cell metaplastic carcinoma with focal squamous differentiation. Taken together, these findings suggest that EGFR overexpression and/or gene amplification are likely to play a role in carcinomas with squamous elements and spindle cell carcinomas, but perhaps not in the other subtypes of MBC.
Because the methods used by Bhargava and coworkers [8
] are identical to ours, a direct comparison is feasible. Taken together, our results and those of Bhargava and coworkers indicate that EGFR
amplification is statistically more prevalent in MBCs than in other types of breast carcinoma (10/174 nonmetaplastic breast carcinomas versus 8/26 metaplastic breast carcinomas showed EGFR
< 0.001 by Fisher's exact test (two sided)).
Although EGFR amplification accounted for 37% of EGFR overexpression in the present series, the majority of cases showed no amplification. EGFR activating mutations have been described in lung cancer and in brain tumours, but these mutations have proven extremely rare in other types of cancer, including breast carcinomas [8
]. However, Weber and coworkers [38
] recently described EGFR missense mutations in sporadic and familial (BRCA1
related) breast cancer and demonstrated that these mutations are significantly more frequent in the latter. Therefore, further analysis of EGFR
gene sequence in MBCs may explain the overexpression of EGFR in those cases lacking EGFR
An alternative mechanism for EGFR expression in MBC may be maintenance of a myoepithelial/basal phenotype. In fact, expression of EGFR is part of the definition of 'basal-like' tumours proposed by Nielsen and coworkers [39
]. EGFR is consistently expressed in myoepithelial cells of the breast [40
]. We [26
] and others [30
] have demonstrated that the vast majority of MBCs consistently express basal/myoepithelial markers. Furthermore, indirect evidence from a study using murine cell lines suggests that transformed myoepithelial cells may give rise to tumours with sarcomatous and carcinosarcomatous patterns, similar to those observed in spindle cell carcinomas and carcinomas with heterologous elements [46
]. Therefore, one could speculate that overexpression of EGFR, without gene amplification, could simply reflect maintenance of the basal-like/myoepithelial phenotype of these lesions. Conversely, one cannot rule out that EGFR
gene amplification is one of the genetic mechanisms whereby basal/myoepithelial differentiation pathways are activated in transformed luminal epithelial cells.
In the present series, there was no association between EGFR overexpression and DFS or OS, whereas there was a trend toward shorter DFS and OS in patients with tumours exhibiting EGFR amplification. Based on our results, further studies analyzing the prognostic impact of EGFR amplification in a large cohort of MBCs are warranted.
The present study also confirms the results of previous analyses demonstrating lack of HER2 overexpression in MBCs [12
], suggesting that humanized monoclonal antibodies against HER2 play little or no role in the treatment of these lesions.