Recurrence risk in breast cancer varies throughout the follow-up time. We examined if these changes are related to the level of expression of the proliferation pathway and intrinsic subtypes.
Expression of estrogen and progesterone receptor, Ki-67, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and cytokeratin 5/6 (CK 5/6) was performed on tissue-microarrays constructed from a large and uniformly managed series of early breast cancer patients (N = 1,249). Subtype definitions by four biomarkers were as follows: luminal A (ER + and/or PR+, HER2-, Ki-67 <14), luminal B (ER + and/or PR+, HER2-, Ki-67 ≥14), HER2-enriched (any ER, any PR, HER2+, any Ki-67), triple-negative (ER-, PR-, HER2-, any Ki-67). Subtype definitions by six biomarkers were as follows: luminal A (ER + and/or PR+, HER2-, Ki-67 <14, any CK 5/6, any EGFR), luminal B (ER + and/or PR+, HER2-, Ki-67 ≥14, any CK 5/6, any EGFR), HER2-enriched (ER-, PR-, HER2+, any Ki-67, any CK 5/6, any EGFR), Luminal-HER2 (ER + and/or PR+, HER2+, any Ki-67, any CK 5/6, any EGFR), Basal-like (ER-, PR-, HER2-, any Ki-67, CK5/6+ and/or EGFR+), triple-negative nonbasal (ER-, PR-, HER2-, any Ki-67, CK 5/6-, EGFR-). Each four- or six-marker defined intrinsic subtype was divided in two groups, with Ki-67 <14% or with Ki-67 ≥14%. Recurrence hazard rate function was determined for each intrinsic subtype as a whole and according to Ki-67 value.
Luminal A displayed a slow risk increase, reaching its maximum after three years and then remained steady. Luminal B presented most of its relapses during the first five years. HER2-enriched tumors show a peak of recurrence nearly twenty months post-surgery, with a greater risk in Ki-67 ≥14%. However a second peak occurred at 72 months but the risk magnitude was greater in Ki-67 <14%. Triple negative tumors with low proliferation rate display a smooth risk curve, but with Ki-67 ≥14% show sharp peak at nearly 18 months.
Each intrinsic subtype has a particular pattern of relapses over time which change depending on the level of activation of the proliferation pathway assessed by Ki-67. These findings could have clinical implications both on adjuvant treatment trial design and on the recommendations concerning the surveillance of patients.