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Clinical array-based karyotyping of breast cancer with equivocal HER2 status resolves gene copy number and reveals chromosome 17 complexity

Shelly Gunn123*, I-Tien Yeh2, Irina Lytvak2, Budi Tirtorahardjo1, Natasha Dzidic1, Soheila Zadeh1, Jaeweon Kim1, Chris McCaskill1, Lony Lim1, Mercedes Gorre1 and Mansoor Mohammed1

Author Affiliations

1 Combimatrix Molecular Diagnostics, 310 Goddard, Irvine California, 92618, USA

2 Department of Pathology, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, 7703 Floyd Curl, San Antonio, Texas 78229, USA

3 START Center for Cancer Care, 4383 Medical Drive, San Antonio, Texas 78229, USA

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BMC Cancer 2010, 10:396  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-396

Published: 28 July 2010



HER2 gene copy status, and concomitant administration of trastuzumab (Herceptin), remains one of the best examples of targeted cancer therapy based on understanding the genomic etiology of disease. However, newly diagnosed breast cancer cases with equivocal HER2 results present a challenge for the oncologist who must make treatment decisions despite the patient's unresolved HER2 status. In some cases both immunohistochemistry (IHC) and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) are reported as equivocal, whereas in other cases IHC results and FISH are discordant for positive versus negative results. The recent validation of array-based, molecular karyotyping for clinical oncology testing provides an alternative method for determination of HER2 gene copy number status in cases remaining unresolved by traditional methods.


In the current study, DNA extracted from 20 formalin fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue samples from newly diagnosed cases of invasive ductal carcinoma referred to our laboratory with unresolved HER2 status, were analyzed using a clinically validated genomic array containing 127 probes covering the HER2 amplicon, the pericentromeric regions, and both chromosome 17 arms.


Array-based comparative genomic hybridization (array CGH) analysis of chromosome 17 resolved HER2 gene status in [20/20] (100%) of cases and revealed additional chromosome 17 copy number changes in [18/20] (90%) of cases. Array CGH analysis also revealed two false positives and one false negative by FISH due to "ratio skewing" caused by chromosomal gains and losses in the centromeric region. All cases with complex rearrangements of chromosome 17 showed genome-wide chromosomal instability.


These results illustrate the analytical power of array-based genomic analysis as a clinical laboratory technique for resolution of HER2 status in breast cancer cases with equivocal results. The frequency of complex chromosome 17 abnormalities in these cases suggests that the two probe FISH interphase analysis is inadequate and results interpreted using the HER2/CEP17 ratio should be reported "with caution" when the presence of centromeric amplification or monosomy is suspected by FISH signal gains or losses. The presence of these pericentromeric copy number changes may result in artificial skewing of the HER2/CEP17 ratio towards false negative or false positive results in breast cancer with chromosome 17 complexity. Full genomic analysis should be considered in all cases with complex chromosome 17 aneusomy as these cases are likely to have genome-wide instability, amplifications, and a poor prognosis.