Published online Apr 28, 2014. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v20.i16.4526
Revised: November 18, 2013
Accepted: January 2, 2014
Published online: April 28, 2014
Amplification of the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) gene and overexpression of the HER2 protein is found in 15%-20% of patients with gastric and gastroesophageal junction cancer. The degree of HER2 overexpression and amplification varies with the location of the carcinoma, with higher expression in the gastroesophageal and proximal parts compared to the distal parts of the stomach. Further, HER2 overexpression and amplification also seems to be related to the Lauren histological classification, with higher levels found in the intestinal phenotype compared to the diffuse and mixed types. The prognostic properties of HER2 overexpression and amplification are still under debate, but a large number of studies seem to indicate that HER2 is a negative prognostic factor. The usefulness of HER2 targeted therapy in gastric cancer was demonstrated in the ToGA trial, where HER2-positive patients with advanced gastric and gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma were randomized to receive 5-FU/capecitabine and cisplatin, either alone or in combination with trastuzumab. A statically significant gain in overall survival was seen in patients who received the combined treatment of trastuzumab and chemotherapy. Patients with a strong overexpression of the HER2 protein (IHC3+) specifically benefited from the treatment, with a median overall survival of 17.9 mo. As a consequence of the positive results of the ToGA trial, patients with advanced gastric or gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma are now routinely tested for HER2. The ToGA trial must be characterized as a landmark in the treatment of gastric cancer and it has paved the way for a number of new HER2 targeted compounds such as pertuzumab, ado-trastuzumab emtansine, lapatinib, afatinib, and dacomitinib, which are currently undergoing phase II and III clinical testing. Overall, this review will discuss the current status of HER2 in gastric and gastroesophageal junction cancer and the future direction in relation to HER2 target therapy.
Core tip: Amplification of the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) gene and overexpression of the HER2 protein can be detected in 15%-20% of patients with gastric and gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) cancer. Recently, HER2 has proven to be an important target for treatment with trastuzumab in these patients, and a positive HER2 status seems to possess both prognostic and predictive properties. A number of new compounds directed towards HER2 and other members of the HER family is currently under development. This review will discuss the current status of HER2 in gastric and GEJ cancer and the future direction in relation to HER2 target therapy.