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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003 Oct 1;95(19):1482-5.

Germline BRCA1 mutations and a basal epithelial phenotype in breast cancer.

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  • 1Program in Cancer Genetics, Department of Oncology and Human Genetics, Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. william.foulkes@mcgill.ca


A basal epithelial phenotype is found in not more than 15% of all invasive breast cancers. Microarray studies have shown that this phenotype is associated with breast cancers that express neither estrogen receptor (ER) nor erbB-2 (HER2/neu) (i.e., ER/erbB-2-negative tumors). The ER/erbB-2- negative phenotype is also found in breast cancers occurring in BRCA1 mutation carriers (i.e., BRCA1-related breast cancers). We tested the hypothesis that BRCA1-related breast cancers are more likely than non-BRCA1/ 2-related breast cancer to express a basal epithelial phenotype. Among 292 breast cancer specimens previously analyzed for ER, erbB-2, p53, and germline mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, we identified 76 that did not overexpress ER or erbB-2. Of the 72 specimens with sufficient material for testing, 40 expressed stratified epithelial cytokeratin 5 and/or 6 (5/6). In univariate analysis, the expression of cytokeratin 5/6 was statistically significantly associated with BRCA1-related breast cancers (odds ratio = 9.0, 95% confidence interval = 1.9 to 43; P =.002, two-sided Fisher's exact test). Thus, germline BRCA1 mutations appear to be associated with a distinctive breast cancer phenotype.

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