Although the earliest feature of disseminated disease in breast cancer is regional lymph node involvement, little is known about the mechanisms whereby cancer cells interact with lymphatic endothelial cells and enter the lymphatic system. We have previously reported that the extensive presence of retraction clefts in breast carcinomas highly significantly correlates with lymphatic tumor spread and predicts poor outcome, suggesting that retraction clefts are not just fixation artifacts, but real potential spaces that are exaggerated by tissue processing and may reflect an early stage of lymphatic invasion. In this study, we examined the correlation between the extent of retraction clefts and lymphangiogenesis, as assessed by lymphatic vessel density and vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C) expression in a series of 256 early-stage breast carcinomas. The presence and extent of retraction clefts around tumor cell nests was determined by review of all hematoxylin-and eosin-stained tumor sections. Lymphatic vessels were detected by podoplanin immunohistochemistry and lymphatic vessel density was measured using the hot-spot method. The expression of VEGF-C in the tumor cells was determined by immunohistochemistry and analyzed semiquantitatively on a four-tiered scale. High levels of retraction clefts, peritumor lymphatic vessel density and VEGF-C expression at the invasive edge in breast carcinomas significantly correlated with tumor size, histological grade, lymphatic invasion and nodal metastasis. Breast carcinomas showing extensive retraction clefts (>20% of tumor volume) were found to have significantly higher lymphatic vessel density and VEGF-C expression levels compared to tumors without this feature. High retraction clefts, peritumor lymphatic vessel density and VEGF-C expression predicted poor outcome in breast carcinomas. Our results support the hypothesis that retraction clefts are real potential spaces that may represent pre-lymphatic spaces facilitating initial lymphatic invasion and that growth factors secreted by the tumor cells may stimulate tumor-associated lymphangiogenesis by promoting the endothelialization of these pre-lymphatic channels.
- breast carcinoma
- lymphatic vessel density
- retraction cleft
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine