Quantification of STAT3 and VEGF expression for molecular diagnosis of lymph node metastasis in breast cancer

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Axillary lymph node metastasis is associated with increased risk of regional recurrence, distant metastasis, and poor survival in breast malignant neoplasm. Expression of signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) is significantly associated with tumor formation, migration, and invasion in various cancers. In addition, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression could promote angiogenesis and increase the risk of tumorigenesis. To determine correlations among STAT3 expression, VEGF, and clinicopathological data on lymph node involvement in breast cancer patients after surgery.


The mRNA expression levels of STAT3 and VEGFs were measured in 45 breast invasive ductal carcinoma tissues, 45 peritumoral tissues, and 45 adjacent nontumor tissues by real-time quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). Postoperative pathological examination revealed explicit axillary lymph node involvement in all patients.


Average mRNA levels of STAT3 and VEGFs were the highest in breast invasive ductal carcinoma tissues, followed by peritumoral tissues. High expression of STAT3 showed significant positive correlation with high axillary lymph node involvement and progesterone receptor (PR), VEGF-C, VEGF-D, and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR)-3 expression. The expression levels of STAT3, VEGF-C, and VEGFR-3 were significantly higher in the tumor tissues of patients with axillary lymph node metastasis than in those of patients without the metastasis. Expression levels of VEGF-C and VEGFR-3 were also significantly higher in peritumoral tissues of patients with axillary lymph node metastasis. Positive correlations were found between STAT3 and VEGF-C/-D mRNA levels.


These data suggest that STAT3/VEGF-C/VEGFR-3 signaling pathway plays an important role in carcinogenesis and lymph-angiogenesis. Our findings suggest that STAT3 may be a potential molecular biomarker for predicting the involvement of axillary lymph nodes in breast cancer, and therapies targeting STAT3 may be important for preventing breast cancer metastasis.

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