HER2-positive cancer cells produce HER2 protein that stimulates cell growth. Stage 4 HER2-positive esophageal cancer has a poor outlook, but some targeted therapy drugs may help people live longer.
According to estimates from the
Stage 4 HER2-positive esophageal cancer means that cancer has spread extensively into the tissue around your food pipe (esophagus) or to distant body parts.
Keep reading to learn more about the treatment and outlook for people with HER2-positive stage 4 esophageal cancer.
We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms that have been historically used to gender people. But your gender identity may not align with how your body responds to this disease. Your doctor can better help you understand how your specific circumstances will translate into diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment.
HER2 is a protein that promotes the growth and division of cells. HER2-positive cancer cells produce too much of this protein, which can cause them to grow quickly.
Knowing whether your cancer is HER2-positive helps doctors determine whether you may respond to some targeted therapy drugs. Targeted therapy drugs are like chemotherapy drugs, but they largely destroy cancer cells without damaging healthy cells.
Other types of HER2-positive cancers, such as
How common is HER2-positive esophageal cancer?
According to the
Roughly 17% of esophageal adenocarcinomas are HER2-positive.
The next most common type of esophageal cancer in the United States is esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.
In a 2021 study, researchers estimated that 8.6–10% of esophageal squamous cell carcinomas were HER2-positive among 1,505 people.
Doctors divide esophageal cancer into stages depending on how far it’s spread. The most common staging system doctors use is the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC)’s TNM system.
Stage 4 is the highest stage of esophageal cancer. It can be further broken into stage 4A and stage 4B:
|4A||Cancer has not spread to distant tissues but has grown into: |
• the covering of your lungs, covering of your heart, or your diaphragm.
• your windpipe, aorta, spine, or other major structures in the area around your esophagus and no more than 6 nearby lymph nodes.
• any layer of your esophagus and 7 or more nearby lymph nodes.
|4B||Cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes or organs.|
|Name||Drug class||Usual administration|
|trastuzumab (Herceptin)||monoclonal antibody||once every 3 weeks with chemotherapy through intravenous (IV) infusion|
|fam-trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu)||antibody-drug conjugate||once every 3 weeks through IV infusion|
Trastuzumab (Herceptin) with chemotherapy is the standard first-line treatment for people with HER2-positive cancer spread to distant tissues.
In 2021, the
Fam-trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu) is the second-line therapy. If you have HER2-positive cancer and your condition worsens while taking trastuzumab (Herceptin), your doctor may recommend fam-trastuzumab deruxtecan.
Healthcare professionals currently do not use targeted therapy to treat squamous cell esophageal cancer.
New targeted therapy and immunotherapy drugs are in various points of development for treating HER2 cancer.
Is HER2-positive esophageal cancer curable?
HER2-positive esophageal cancer may be curable if it’s contained in your esophagus or surrounding tissues. Stage 4 esophageal cancer usually isn’t considered curable. Treatment usually aims to help people live longer and lower their symptoms.
People with esophageal cancer that has spread to distant tissues tend to have a poor outlook.
Cancer contained in the esophagus or surrounding tissue is easier to treat and has a better outlook.
The American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute don’t use the AJCC’s TNM staging system for reporting survival statistics. Instead, they divide the cancer into three categories depending on how far it has spread.
Here’s a look at the relative survival rates of esophageal cancer in the United States for 2012–2018, as per ACS:
|Stage||5-year relative survival rate|
In a 2018
Who’s at risk of developing esophageal cancer?
- increasing age (55 or older)
- male sex
- use of tobacco products (if applicable)
- higher alcohol consumption (if applicable)
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- possibly frequently drinking very hot liquids
- possibly eating a diet high in processed meats and low in fruits and vegetables
- lack of exercise
- esophageal injury
- history of some other cancers like lung cancer
- certain underlying conditions such as:
HER2 is a protein produced by healthy cells and some cancer cells that stimulate cell growth. Knowing whether your cancer is HER2-positive helps doctors determine whether you may respond to certain targeted therapy drugs.
Stage 4 esophageal cancer tends to be very difficult to treat. Treatment often focuses on helping improve your overall survival time and lowering symptoms.