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Clin Cancer Res. 2005 Jun 1;11(11):4083-9.

Automated quantitative analysis of E-cadherin expression in lymph node metastases is predictive of survival in invasive ductal breast cancer.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.



The tumor suppressor adhesion molecule E-cadherin is believed to have an anti-invasive role in breast cancer. Lymph node involvement is the best prognostic marker known, yet there is variability in outcome among node-positive patients. We investigated the relationship between E-cadherin expression in primary invasive ductal tumors and corresponding nodal metastases, and determined the prognostic value of E-cadherin expression in node-positive breast cancer.


Membrane E-cadherin expression was studied by immunohistochemical staining of tissue microarrays with fluorescent-labeled antibodies. An objective method of automated quantitative analysis (AQUA) was used. AQUA uses cytokeratin to define pixels as breast cancer (tumor mask) within the array spot, and measures E-cadherin expression using a Cy5-conjugated antibody within the mask.


We employed a tissue microarray containing 207 primary and matched nodal metastases suitable for AQUA analysis. There was no significant difference in mean staining intensity between the primary and nodal specimens (P = 0.8). A scattergram was generated which identified a subset of patients (25%) with high E-cadherin expression in nodal metastases, and this top quartile had improved survival (P = 0.028). On univariate analysis, increased E-cadherin expression in nodal metastases was strongly associated with improved survival (P = 0.007), whereas expression in primary tumors was not (P = 0.13). On multivariate analysis, nodal E-cadherin expression retained its independent association with survival, as did tumor size and HER2/neu status.


Strong E-cadherin expression in lymph node metastases was highly predictive of improved survival. This suggests that expression of adhesion molecules at metastatic sites portends less aggressive tumor behavior.

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