Digital Image Analysis of HER2 Immunostained Gastric and Gastroesophageal Junction Adenocarcinomas

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Manual assessment of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) protein expression by immunohistochemistry (IHC) in gastric and gastroesophageal junction (GGEJ) adenocarcinomas is prone to interobserver variability and hampered by tumor heterogeneity and different scoring criteria. Equivocal cases are frequent, requiring additional in situ hybridization analysis. This study aimed to evaluate the accuracy of digital image analysis for the assessment of HER2 protein expression. In total, 110 GGEJ adenocarcinomas were included in tissue microarrays with 3 tissue cores per case. Two immunoassays, PATHWAY and HercepTest, and fluorescent in situ hybridization analysis were performed. The Visiopharm HER2-CONNECT Analysis Protocol Package was applied through the ONCOtopix digital image analysis software platform. HER2 membrane connectivity, calculated by the Analysis Protocol Package, was converted to standard IHC scores applying predetermined cutoff values for breast carcinoma as well as novel cutoff values. Cases with excessive cytoplasmic staining as well as HER2 amplified IHC negative cases were excluded from analysis. Applying HER2-CONNECT with connectivity cutoff values established for breast carcinoma resulted in 72.7% sensitivity and 100% specificity for the identification of HER2 positive gene amplified cases. By application of new cutoff values, the sensitivity increased to 100% without decreased specificity. With the new cutoff values, a 36% to 50% reduction of IHC equivocal cases was obtained. In conclusion, HER2-CONNECT with adjusted cutoff values seem to be an effective tool for standardized assessment of HER2 protein expression in GGEJ adenocarcinomas, decreasing the need for in situ hybridization analyzes.

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