PD-L1 Expression and Intratumoral Heterogeneity Across Breast Cancer Subtypes and Stages: An Assessment of 245 Primary and 40 Metastatic Tumors

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Tumor expression of programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) is associated with immune evasion in a variety of malignancies, including a subset of triple-negative breast carcinomas, and may mark cancers as susceptible to PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitor therapies. We herein characterize PD-L1 expression in breast cancers across the full range of histomorphologies and investigate its intratumoral heterogeneity and fidelity across primaries and metastases. A total of 245 primary and 40 metastatic (20 nodal, 20 distant) breast carcinomas were evaluated with PD-L1 immunohistochemistry on tissue microarray. Tumor PD-L1 staining was seen in 12% of all primaries including 32% of triple-negative cancers. Staining was common in ductal cancers with medullary (54%), apocrine (27%), and metaplastic features (40%). However, diffuse (>50%) staining was rare (2% of all cancers and 5% of triple negatives). Immune staining was seen in 29% of all primaries and 61% of triple negatives. Tumor expression of PD-L1 was conserved in 94% of matched primary/metastasis pairs, while immune staining showed fidelity in 71%; the remaining cases acquired PD-L1 immune cell expression in the metastasis. Only half of cases with positive tumor staining showed concordance across all analyzed cores. These data demonstrate that PD-L1 expression is prevalent among high-grade, hormone receptor–negative breast cancers with a range of histomorphologies and shows fidelity between primary and metastatic sites in treatment-naive cancers, although acquisition of immune PD-L1 staining in metastases is not uncommon. There is considerable intratumoral heterogeneity in PD-L1 expression, undermining the suitability of core biopsy in the determination of PD-L1 status. Clinical trials are needed to determine PD-L1 staining thresholds required for therapeutic response, as diffuse staining is rare.

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