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Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2003 Jan;127(1):36-41.

Male versus female breast cancers. A population-based comparative immunohistochemical analysis.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.



The rate of male breast cancer is a small fraction of that observed in females, thus severely limiting our understanding of the pathogenesis of this condition. It remains unclear whether the biological behavior and tumor progression associated with male breast cancer parallel that of the female form.


To evaluate the immunohistochemical profile of male breast carcinomas and to compare this profile with that of stage-matched female breast cancers.


Seventy-five cases of primary male breast cancer were identified using the records of the Saskatchewan Cancer Foundation over a period of 26 years (1970-1996). Fifty-nine of these cases had formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue blocks available for the purposes of this study. All cases were reviewed and a standardized modified Bloom-Richardson grading criterion was applied. Estrogen receptor status, progesterone receptor status, c-Erb-B2 expression, p53 expression, and Bcl-2 expression were evaluated by immunohistochemistry. Results from 240 consecutive cases of stage-matched female breast cancers analyzed in the same laboratory were used as a standard set for comparison.


Male breast cancers tended to be high grade (85% grade 3) in comparison with the female breast cancers (50% grade 3). In descriptive analysis across all stages of disease, male carcinomas were more frequently estrogen receptor positive (81% vs 69%) than their female counterparts. Despite their high grade, they were less likely to overexpress p53 (9% vs 28%) and Erb-B2 (5% vs 17%) than the female counterparts. There was no significant difference in either progesterone receptor (63% vs 56%) or Bcl-2 (79% vs 76%) overexpression. Stratified analysis by stage-matched controls showed no statistically significant differences among the men and women with stage I disease. However, in stage II-matched samples, statistically significant differences were observed between the 2 groups. The male cancers were more likely to overexpress estrogen receptor (81.6% vs 64.4%, P = .04), progesterone receptor (71.1% vs 47.5%, P = .01), and Bcl-2 (78.9% vs 69.4%, P = .20). They also showed statistically significant lower expression of p53 (7.9% vs 36.3%, P = .001) and Erb-B2 (5.3% vs 23.8% P = .01).


Male breast cancers display distinct immunophenotypic differences from those occurring in women, implying a different pathogenesis in the evolution and progression of this disease. Such differences may play key roles in therapeutic management, warranting different treatment strategies in comparison to female breast cancers.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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