Background: Drains are inserted in the dissected axilla of most patients during surgery for breast cancer.
Objective: To evaluate the presence and prognostic value of MUC1 and Met-hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor in the axillary drainage of these patients.
Methods: The study group included 40 consecutive patients with invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast who were suitable for breast-conserving treatment; 20 malignant melanoma patients found to have negative axillary sentinel lymph node served as the control group. The output of the drains, which had been placed in the axilla during operation, was collected, and the presence of MUC1, Met-HGF/SF and beta-actin were assessed in the lymphatic fluid by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction assays. The data were compared to the pathologic features of the tumor and the axillary lymph nodes, and to the estrogen and progesterone receptors status.
Results: RT-PCR assays of the axillary lymphatic drainage were positive for MUC1 and Met-HGF/SF in 15 (37.5%) and 26 (65%) of the patients, respectively. Patients in whom MUC1 and Met-HGF/SF were not found in the axillary fluid had smaller tumors and less capillary and lymphatic invasion, compared to patients with positive assays (P < 0.0 for all these comparisons). The lymph nodes were negative for metastases in all patients with negative assays (P < 0.001). The presence of MUC1 and Met-HGF/SF showed negative correlations with the estrogen and progesterone receptors (P < 0.05).
Conclusion: MUC1 and Met-HGF/SF can be detected in the axillary fluids of patients with breast cancer. The expression of both tumor markers in the axillary drainage is strongly associated with unfavorable tumor features and can be used as a prognostic factor.