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Clin Cancer Res. 2009 Apr 1;15(7):2433-41. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-08-2179. Epub 2009 Mar 24.

Tumor microenvironment of metastasis in human breast carcinoma: a potential prognostic marker linked to hematogenous dissemination.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York 10065, USA.



Multiphoton-based intravital imaging has shown that invasive carcinoma cells in mouse and rat mammary tumors intravasate when associated with perivascular macrophages, identifying a potential tumor microenvironment of metastasis (TMEM). We define TMEM as the tripartite arrangement of an invasive carcinoma cell, a macrophage, and an endothelial cell. The aim of this study was to determine if TMEM density in human breast carcinoma samples predicts the development of systemic, hematogenous metastases.


A case-control study of 30 patients who developed metastatic breast cancer and 30 patients without metastatic disease was done. Cases were matched to controls based on currently used prognostic criteria. Paraffin-embedded primary breast cancer samples were stained using a triple immunohistochemical method allowing simultaneous identification of carcinoma cells, macrophages, and endothelial cells. Two pathologists, blinded to outcome, evaluated the number of TMEM per 20 high-power fields.


No association was seen between TMEM density and tumor size or grade, lymph node metastasis, lymphovascular invasion, or hormone receptor status. TMEM density was greater in the group of patients who developed systemic metastases compared with the patients with only localized breast cancer (median, 105 versus 50, respectively; P = 0.00006). For every 10-unit increase in TMEM density, the odds ratio for systemic metastasis was 1.9 (95% confidence interval, 1.1-3.4).


TMEM density predicted the development of systemic, hematogenous metastases. The ability of TMEM to predict distant metastasis was independent of lymph node status and other currently used prognosticators. Quantitation of TMEM may be a useful new prognostic marker for breast cancer patients.

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