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Clin Cancer Res. 2004 Sep 15;10(18 Pt 1):6143-51.

Hierarchical clustering analysis of tissue microarray immunostaining data identifies prognostically significant groups of breast carcinoma.

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  • 1Genetic Pathology Evaluation Centre of the Department of Pathology, and Prostate Research Centre of Vancouver General Hospital, British Columbia Cancer Agency and University of British Columbia, Canada.


Prognostically relevant cluster groups, based on gene expression profiles, have been recently identified for breast cancers, lung cancers, and lymphoma. Our aim was to determine whether hierarchical clustering analysis of multiple immunomarkers (protein expression profiles) improves prognostication in patients with invasive breast cancer. A cohort of 438 sequential cases of invasive breast cancer with median follow-up of 15.4 years was selected for tissue microarray construction. A total of 31 biomarkers were tested by immunohistochemistry on these tissue arrays. The prognostic significance of individual markers was assessed by using Kaplan-Meier survival estimates and log-rank tests. Seventeen of 31 markers showed prognostic significance in univariate analysis (P < or = 0.05) and 4 markers showed a trend toward significance (P < or = 0.2). Unsupervised hierarchical clustering analysis was done by using these 21 immunomarkers, and this resulted in identification of three cluster groups with significant differences in clinical outcome. chi2 analysis showed that expression of 11 markers significantly correlated with membership in one of the three cluster groups. Unsupervised hierarchical clustering analysis with this set of 11 markers reproduced the same three prognostically significant cluster groups identified by using the larger set of markers. These cluster groups were of prognostic significance independent of lymph node metastasis, tumor size, and tumor grade in multivariate analysis (P=0.0001). The cluster groups were as powerful a prognostic indicator as lymph node status. This work demonstrates that hierarchical clustering of immunostaining data by using multiple markers can group breast cancers into classes with clinical relevance and is superior to the use of individual prognostic markers.

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