Lymphangiogenesis Does Not Occur in Breast Cancer

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Breast cancer metastasis predominantly occurs via lymphatic vessels. However, the study of lymphatic vessels and lymphangiogenesis has been hampered by lack of specific markers. Recently, antibodies directed against M2A (D2-40), Podoplanin, and Prox-1 that specifically mark lymphatic vessels in paraffin-embedded sections have become available. These were used to study lymphangiogenesis in archival paraffin sections of normal breast (n = 23), fibrocystic disease (n = 7), ductal carcinoma in situ (n = 32), invasive ductal carcinoma (n = 50), and invasive lobular carcinoma (n = 5). In addition, endothelial proliferation in lymphatic vessels was analyzed by dual-color immunohistochemistry with D2-40 and proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). Expression of D2-40, Prox-1, and Podoplanin was seen in lymphatic vessels but not in blood vessels. Lymphatic vessels were seen in the peritumoral area and as “entrapped” intratumoral vessels adjacent to preexisting normal lobules and ducts. Unlike angiogenesis, there was no increase of lymphatic vessel density in association with neoplastic transformation. On the contrary, a marked reduction in intratumoral lymphatic vessel density was seen in comparison to normal breast tissue, fibrocystic disease, and ductal carcinoma in situ (P = 0.0001). There was an increase in peritumoral lymphatic vessel density as compared with normal breast (P = 0.0001). However, the endothelial cells in the “entrapped” or the peritumoral lymphatic vessels did not show any expression of PCNA indicating minimal or no proliferative activity. This was in contrast to the strong expression seen in adjacent tumor cells and blood vessel endothelial cells. Thus, lymphangiogenesis was not evident when studied by lymphatic vessel density or by lymph vessel endothelial proliferation.

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