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Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2009 Jun;133(6):860-8. doi: 10.1043/1543-2165-133.6.860.

Basal-like breast carcinoma: from expression profiling to routine practice.

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Department of Histopathology, Nottingham City Hospital NHS Trust, Nottingham University, Nottingham, UK.



Advances in the understanding of the molecular and genetic mechanisms of breast cancer have led to realization of the heterogeneity of the disease and the promise of a new era of individualized management for patients with breast cancer. The advent and use of high-throughput molecular methods for the study of breast cancer have brought to the forefront the existence of the so-called basal-like breast cancers, which have been shown to have distinct biologic and clinical characteristics.


To critically assess the clinicopathologic features of basal-like breast cancer, discuss the morphologic and immunophenotypic features of basal-like cancer, and explore the criteria that can be used to identify these tumors in routine practice.


A Medline/PubMed search was conducted using the terms "basal-like," "(basal OR basaloid OR basal-like) AND breast cancer." All articles in English language were retrieved and critically reviewed.


Basal-like breast cancers constitute a distinct, yet heterogeneous, class of neoplasms associated with specific histologic features and poor prognosis despite high response rates to neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Basal-like breast cancers have features that recapitulate those of tumors arising in BRCA1 mutation carriers, and the majority of patients with BRCA1 germline mutations develop basal-like breast cancers. At the molecular level, basal-like cancers harbor a transcriptome that is distinct from that of hormone-receptor-positive or HER2-amplified tumors, being characterized by the expression of genes usually found in basal/myoepithelial cells of the breast. However, translating the new concepts about basal-like cancer into clinical practice has proven a Herculean task, given the lack of an internationally accepted definition for these tumors and for the method of identification in routine practice.

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