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Hypoxia and angiogenesis are important factors in breast cancer progression. Little is known of hypoxia and angiogenesis in lymph node metastases of breast cancer. The aim of this study was to quantify hypoxia, by hypoxia-induced marker expression levels, and angiogenesis, by endothelial cell proliferation, comparing primary breast tumours and axillary lymph node metastases. Tissue sections of the primary tumour and a lymph node metastasis of 60 patients with breast cancer were immunohistochemically stained for the hypoxia-markers carbonic anhydrase 9 (CA9), hypoxia-inducible factor-1alpha (Hif-1alpha) and DEC-1 and for CD34/Ki-67. Endothelial cell proliferation fraction (ECP%) and tumour cell proliferation fraction (TCP%) were assessed. On haematoxylin-eosin stain, the growth pattern and the presence of a fibrotic focus were assessed. Hypoxia-marker expression, ECP% and TCP% in primary tumours and in lymph node metastases were correlated to each other and to clinico-pathological variables. Median ECP% and TCP% in primary tumours and lymph node metastases were comparable (primary tumours: ECP%=4.02, TCP%=19.54; lymph node metastases: ECP%=5.47, TCP%=21.26). ECP% correlated with TCP% (primary tumours: r=0.63, P<0.001; lymph node metastases: r=0.76, P<0.001). CA9 and Hif-1alpha expression were correlated (primary tumours P=0.005; lymph node metastases P<0.001). In primary tumours, CA9 and Hif-1alpha expression were correlated with DEC-1 expression (P=0.05), presence of a fibrotic focus (P<0.007) and mixed/expansive growth pattern (P<0.001). Primary tumours and lymph node metastases with CA9 or Hif-1alpha expression had a higher ECP% and TCP% (P<0.003); in primary tumours, mixed/expansive growth pattern and fibrotic focus were characterised by higher ECP% (P=0.03). Furthermore, between primary tumours and lymph node metastases a correlation was found for ECP%, TCP%, CA9 and Hif-1alpha expression (ECP% r=0.51, P<0.001; TCP r=0.77, P<0.001; CA9 and Hif-1alpha P<0.001). Our data demonstrate that the growth of breast cancer lymph node metastases is angiogenesis dependent and that angiogenesis and hypoxia in the primary tumour predict angiogenesis and hypoxia in the lymph node metastases. Together with previous findings in breast cancer liver metastases, which grow in 96% of cases angiogenesis independently, these data suggest that both the intrinsic growth characteristics and angiogenic potential of breast cancer cells and the site-specific tumour microenvironment determine angiogenesis and hypoxia in breast cancer.

Original publication

DOI

10.1038/sj.bjc.6602828

Type

Journal article

Journal

Br J Cancer

Publication Date

14/11/2005

Volume

93

Pages

1128 - 1136

Keywords

Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Breast Neoplasms, Cell Hypoxia, Cell Proliferation, Humans, Lymphatic Metastasis, Middle Aged, Neovascularization, Pathologic