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Oncologist. 2017 Nov;22(11):1316-1324. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2017-0029. Epub 2017 Jul 12.

Distinct Tertiary Lymphoid Structure Associations and Their Prognostic Relevance in HER2 Positive and Negative Breast Cancers.

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Department of Pathology, Shenzhen Second People's Hospital, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China.
Department of Anatomical and Cellular Pathology, Prince of Wales Hospital, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, NT, Hong Kong.
Department of Anatomic Pathology, Centro Hospitalar Conde de Sao Januario, Macao, SAR.
Department of Pathology, Shenzhen People's Hospital, Shenzhen, China.
Department of Pathology, Kwong Wah Hospital, Hong Kong.
Department of Pathology, Tuen Mun Hospital, Tuen Mun, NT, Hong Kong.
Department of Anatomical and Cellular Pathology, Prince of Wales Hospital, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, NT, Hong Kong



The presence of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) is associated with favorable prognosis. Recent evidence suggested that not only their density, but also the spatial organization as tertiary lymphoid structures (TLS), play a key role in determining patient survival.


In a cohort of 248 breast cancers, the clinicopathologic association and prognostic role of TLS was examined.


Tertiary lymphoid structures were associated with higher tumor grade, apocrine phenotype, necrosis, extensive in situ component, lymphovascular invasion (LVI), and high TIL. For biomarkers, TLS were associated with hormone receptors negativity, HER2 positivity, and c-kit expression. Tertiary lymphoid structures were significantly related to better disease-free survival (DFS) in HER2 positive (HER2+) breast cancers (log-rank = 4.054), which was not dependent on high TIL status. The combined TLS and TIL status was an independent favorable factor associated with DFS in those cases. Interestingly, tumor cell infiltration into the TLS was found in 41.9% of TLS positive cases. It was associated with LVI in HER2 negative (HER2-) TLS positive (particularly estrogen receptor positive [ER+] HER2-) cases. In the ER+ HER2- cases, tumor cell infiltration into TLS was also associated with increased pathologic nodal stage (pN) stage and nodal involvement.


Tertiary lymphoid structures showed a similar relationship with clinicopathologic features and biomarkers as TIL. The presence of TLS, irrespective of TIL level, could be an important favorable prognostic indicator in HER2+ breast cancer patients. Given the significance of TLS in promoting effective antitumor immunity, further understanding of its organization and induction may provide new opportunities to improve the current immunotherapy strategies.


Despite recent interest on the clinical value of tumor infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL), little was known on the clinical significance on their spatial organization as tertiary lymphoid structures (TLS). Although TLS showed similar relationships with clinicopathologic features and biomarkers as TIL, the prognostic value of TLS, particularly in HER2 positive cancers, was independent of TIL. Moreover, tumor infiltration could be present in TLS which appears to be related to tumor invasion in HER2 negative cancers. Overall, the results demonstrated the additional value for TLS in HER2 cancer subtypes. Further investigations and its standardized evaluation will enhance its use as standard practice.


Breast cancer; Human epidermal growth receptor 2 positive cancers; Tertiary lymphoid organ; Tumor infiltrating lymphocyte

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