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Cancer Res. 1998 Feb 1;58(3):432-6.

Cysteine proteinase inhibitor cystatin A in breast cancer.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Turku, Finland.


Cystatin A (acid cysteine proteinase inhibitor; ACPI) is a natural inhibitor of cysteine proteinases. It has been suggested that an inverse correlation exists between cystatin A and malignant progression. We wanted to assess the biological and clinical significance of cystatin A in infiltrative breast carcinoma by immunohistochemical staining. Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded material from 440 cases treated during the years 1988-1991 was used in the study. After exclusion of patients with disseminated disease at diagnosis, previous contralateral breast carcinoma, and absence of follow-up data, 384 patients could be included in the survival analysis. For immunohistochemical analysis of cystatin A, we used monoclonal cystatin A antibody WR-23/2/3/3, the binding of which was detected by the avidin-biotin-peroxidase method. Immunohistochemical analysis of Bcl-2 and p53 was also done, and mitotic activity was evaluated. Positive staining for cystatin A was found in 52 of 440 cases. The staining was irregular but showed irrefutably positive areas within neoplastic tissue. Most of the positive tumors were of the ductal infiltrative type, but two were mucinous carcinomas, one medullary and one squamous cell carcinoma. No lobular carcinomas showed positive staining. Focal cystatin A positivity was seen in myoepithelial cells of benign ducts. Occasional apoptotic bodies within the neoplasm showed strong positivity for cystatin A. Tumors positive for cystatin A were of larger size and had higher mitotic activity than cystatin A-negative tumors. Cystatin A was associated with negative Bcl-2 staining, but there was no statistically significant association between axillary lymph node status or p53 immunostaining. The risk for breast cancer-related death was significantly higher in patients with cystatin A-positive tumors than in those with cystatin A-negative ones. The risk increase was significant also in lymph node-negative patients. After adjusting for the effect of tumor size, histological grade, and lymph node status, cystatin A-positive patients still had a higher risk of death. Patients with cystatin A and p53 coexpression had a higher risk of death than the other patients. The findings reveal a new variant of aggressive breast cancer. This type of carcinoma may develop during tumor progression through genetic instability that allows cystatin A expression and gives growth advantage to a clone of tumor cells.

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