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Am J Surg Pathol. 2009 Feb;33(2):163-75. doi: 10.1097/PAS.0b013e31817f9790.

Most basal-like breast carcinomas demonstrate the same Rb-/p16+ immunophenotype as the HPV-related poorly differentiated squamous cell carcinomas which they resemble morphologically.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, MD 21231-2410, USA.


Basal-like carcinomas (BLCs) of the breast share discriminatory morphologic features with poorly differentiated high-risk human papilloma virus (HPV)-related squamous cell carcinomas of the oropharynx, penis, and vulva. Because HPV E7 protein inactivates the retinoblastoma (Rb) protein, diffuse p16 expression is a surrogate marker for these high-risk HPV-related carcinomas. HPV E6 protein also inactivates p53, further compromising the G1-S cell cycle checkpoint. The Rb/p16/p53 immunohistochemical profile of BLC of the breast has not been well characterized. Tissue microarrays containing 71 invasive ductal carcinomas (IDCs) of the breast were immunolabeled for p16, Rb, p53, and Ki-67. The cases included 4 distinct groups of IDCs having surrogate immunohistochemical profiles corresponding to categories defined by gene expression profiling (17 luminal A, 7 luminal B, 14 HER-2+, and 21 BLC), along with 12 unclassifiable triple negative carcinomas (UTNCs). Twenty-five of the 71 IDC were Rb negative/p16 diffuse positive (Rb-/p16+). These included 15 of 21 BLC and 9 of 12 UTNC, but only 1 of 14 HER-2 positive cases and none of the 17 luminal A or 7 luminal B cases (P<0.01, BLC or UTNC vs. others). Six of the Rb-/p16+ IDC also had a significant ductal carcinoma in situ component. The ductal carcinoma in situ in 4 of these 6 cases showed the same Rb-/p16+ phenotype as the associated IDC. BLC and UTNC had the highest Ki-67 indices of the 5 groups, even when matched for grade. The Rb-/p16+ phenotype and the Rb-/p16+/p53 overexpressing phenotype correlated with increased proliferation within the BLC group. In conclusion, BLC and UTNC, but not HER-2, luminal A, or luminal B carcinomas, frequently demonstrate an Rb-/p16+ phenotype, similar to the HPV-related squamous cell carcinomas that BLC resemble morphologically. This subset may represent a more homogenous group than BLC as defined currently.

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