OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the expression of HER2 receptors (previously reported to be over-expressed in malignant urothelium) in both primary tumours and metastases of transitional cell cancer, using two different staining methods and two different scoring techniques, considering the potential use of these receptors as targets for planned systemic anti-HER2 nuclide-based treatment. MATERIALS AND METHODS: HER2 expression was evaluated with two different immunohistochemical methods in 90 patients with primary urinary bladder cancer tumours and corresponding metastases. Sections were first stained with the commercially available breast cancer test kit (HercepTest, Dako, Glostrup, Denmark). Parallel sections were then stained with a modified HercepTest procedure. Two different evaluation criteria were compared; the HercepTest score that requires > or = 10% stained tumour cells (as for breast cancer) and a proposed 'Target score' that requires > 67% stained tumour cells. The latter score is assumed to be preferable for HER2-targeted radionuclide therapy. RESULTS: Using the HercepTest kit, the Target score gave lower fractions of positive primary tumours and metastases than the HercepTest score. The modified HercepTest staining procedure and Target score gave high HER2 values in 80% of primary tumours and 62% of metastases, which is considerably more than that obtained with the HercepTest staining and score. There was a significant decrease in HER2 positivity with increasing distance from the primary tumour. In nine sentinel-node metastases assessed, all but one were HER2-positive. Considering all regional metastases, 74% were positive, and of distant metastases, 47%; 72% of the patients with positive primary tumours also expressed HER2 in their metastases. CONCLUSIONS: When combining the modified HercepTest with customised evaluation criteria, more HER2-positive tumours were diagnosed. The degree of HER2 down-regulation was significantly higher in distant than in regional metastases. HER2-targeted therapy may be an alternative or complementary to other methods in the future treatment of metastatic urinary bladder carcinoma.