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Cancer. 2009 Aug 25;117(4):279-88. doi: 10.1002/cncy.20034.

Immunohistochemical detection of estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 expression in breast carcinomas: comparison on cell block, needle-core, and tissue block preparations.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Emory University Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.



Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) is a rapid and accurate procedure for the detection of breast carcinomas. The evaluation of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) expression by immunohistochemistry (IHC) is performed routinely on formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded needle-core (NC) or excision tissue block (TB) preparations, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology/College of American Pathologist guidelines. In this retrospective study, the authors compared expression levels of ER, PR, and HER2 in ethanol-fixed BC FNA cell block (CB) samples with expression levels in formalin-fixed NC and TB samples.


Forty-one breast carcinoma CB samples with concurrent or subsequent NC and TB samples were identified. Patients who had received neoadjuvant or adjuvant chemotherapy were excluded. CB samples initially were fixed in 50% ethanol (4-12 hours), and this was followed by formalin fixation (minimum, 6 hours). NC samples were placed promptly in formalin for a minimum of 6 hours. Within 4 to 8 hours, TB samples were fixed in formalin for 6 to 48 hours. Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) results were also compared.


IHC for ER on alcohol-fixed CB samples had good correlation with NC and TB samples. PR results on TB samples had excellent agreement with NC samples. A higher discordance rate wais observed when PR results were compared between CB samples and NC samples. HER2 detection on ethanol-fixed CB samples resulted in a higher rate of positive and equivocal staining than NC or TB samples. HER2 IHC on TB samples demonstrated better correlation with FISH results than CB or NC samples.


Alcohol fixation did not affect ER results in breast carcinoma, but it may alter tumor cell PR antigenicity. The authors concluded that CB samples could be used to triage patients for tamoxifen therapy, but they are not reliable for the assessment of HER2 status; therefore, CB results should be correlated with results from NC or TB samples.

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