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Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2002 Mar;126(3):325-30.

Morphologic spectrum of estrogen receptor-negative breast carcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Histopathology, Charing Cross Hospital and Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, United Kingdom.



Estrogen receptor (ER)-negative breast carcinomas are a heterogeneous group of breast cancers that are generally thought to be aggressive.


To determine the morphologic and immunohistochemical spectrum of a consecutive series of ER-negative breast carcinomas, in an attempt to understand the pathogenesis and behavior of these lesions.


Seventy-four consecutive cases of ER-negative invasive carcinomas were studied. Hematoxylin-eosin-stained sections were reviewed, and new sections were stained for c-erbB-2, p53, vimentin, and androgen and prolactin receptors. The findings were correlated with the axillary lymph node status as a measure of tumor aggressiveness.


The histopathology department of a tertiary referral teaching hospital.


The tumors included 50 (68%) invasive ductal carcinomas, 21 (28%) medullary/atypical medullary carcinomas, and 1 each of invasive lobular, apocrine, and papillary carcinoma. Some of the invasive ductal cases had distinctive features that are described in this report. Maximum tumor diameter varied between 5 and 100 mm. Sixty tumors (81%) were grade 3, 13 (18%) were grade 2, and 1 (1%) was grade 1. Of the 60 cases in which the axillary node status was known, 34 (57%) had metastases, and 26 did not. Tumors associated with positive nodes were significantly larger than those associated with negative nodes (37.2 vs 17.8 mm, P <.001). A higher percentage of node-negative tumors were c-erbB-2 positive (42% vs 21%, P <.05). There were no differences between the 2 groups with regard to histologic type, tumor grade, or the expression of p53, vimentin, or androgen or prolactin receptors.


Many ER-negative breast carcinomas have distinctive microscopic features. Not all ER-negative tumors are aggressive, as judged by the absence of lymph node metastases in 43% of cases in this series. Tumor size is the most important indicator for the likelihood of the presence of lymph node metastases. The wide range of tumor sizes encountered in this series suggests that the ER status of a tumor is determined early in its natural history and supports the existence of 2 separate pathways for the development of ER-negative and ER-positive breast carcinomas.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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