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Breast Cancer Res. 2001;3(4):276-83. Epub 2001 Jun 5.

In vivo cell kinetics in breast carcinogenesis.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Medical School, University of Ioannina, Ioannina, Greece.



Disruption of the balance between apoptosis and proliferation is considered to be an important factor in the development and progression of tumours. In the present study we determined the in vivo cell kinetics along the spectrum of apparently normal epithelium, hyperplasia, preinvasive lesions and invasive carcinoma, in breast tissues affected by fibrocystic changes in which preinvasive and/or invasive lesions developed, as a model of breast carcinogenesis.


A total of 32 areas of apparently normal epithelium and 135 ductal proliferative and neoplastic lesions were studied. More than one epithelial lesion per case were analyzed. The apoptotic index (AI) and the proliferative index (PI) were expressed as the percentage of TdT-mediated dUTP-nick end-labelling (TUNEL) and Ki-67-positive cells, respectively. The PI/AI (P/A index) was calculated for each case.


The AIs and PIs were significantly higher in hyperplasia than in apparently normal epithelium (P = 0.04 and P = 0.0005, respectively), in atypical hyperplasia than in hyperplasia (P = 0.01 and P = 0.04, respectively) and in invasive carcinoma than in in situ carcinoma (P < 0.001 and P < 0.001, respectively). The two indices were similar in atypical hyperplasia and in in situ carcinoma. The P/A index increased significantly from normal epithelium to hyperplasia (P = 0.01) and from preinvasive lesions to invasive carcinoma (P = 0.04) whereas it was decreased (non-significantly) from hyperplasia to preinvasive lesions. A strong positive correlation between the AIs and the PIs was found (r = 0.83, P < 0.001).


These findings suggest accelerating cell turnover along the continuum of breast carcinogenesis. Atypical hyperplasias and in situ carcinomas might be kinetically similar lesions. In the transition from normal epithelium to hyperplasia and from preinvasive lesions to invasive carcinoma the net growth of epithelial cells results from a growth imbalance in favour of proliferation. In the transition from hyperplasia to preinvasive lesions there is an imbalance in favour of apoptosis.

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