B-cells and regulatory T-cells in the microenvironment of HER2+ breast cancer are associated with decreased survival: a real-world analysis of women with HER2+ metastatic breast cancer.



In a real-world cohort of 124 patients with HER2-positive MBC, B-cells, and Tregs in primary tumors are associated with unfavorable survival. With this paper, we provide a comprehensive insight in the tumor immune microenvironment that could guide further research into development of novel immunomodulatory strategies.


A total of 124 patients with 147 samples were included and evaluated. The different technologies showed high correlations between each other. T-cells were less prevalent in metastases compared to primary tumors, whereas B-cells and regulatory T-cells (Tregs) were comparable between primary tumors and metastases. Stromal tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in general were not associated with OS. The infiltration of B-cells and Tregs in the primary tumor was associated with unfavorable OS. Four signatures classifying the extracellular matrix of primary tumors showed differential survival in the population as a whole.


We included all patients with HER2-positive MBC who were treated with trastuzumab-based palliative therapy in the Netherlands Cancer Institute between 2000 and 2014 and for whom pre-treatment tissue from the primary tumor or from metastases was available. Infiltrating immune cells and their spatial relationships to one another and to tumor cells were characterized by immunohistochemistry and multiplex immunofluorescence. We also evaluated immune signatures and other key pathways using next-generation RNA-sequencing data. With nine years median follow-up from initial diagnosis of MBC, we investigated the association between tumor and immune characteristics and outcome.


Despite major improvements in treatment of HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer (MBC), only few patients achieve complete remission and remain progression free for a prolonged time. The tumor immune microenvironment plays an important role in the response to treatment in HER2-positive breast cancer and could contain valuable prognostic information. Detailed information on the cancer-immune cell interactions in HER2-positive MBC is however still lacking. By characterizing the tumor immune microenvironment in patients with HER2-positive MBC, we aimed to get a better understanding why overall survival (OS) differs so widely and which alternative treatment approaches may improve outcome.

More about this publication

Breast cancer research : BCR
  • Volume 25
  • Issue nr. 1
  • Pages 117
  • Publication date 04-10-2023

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