Aims: Invasive micropapillary carcinoma (IMPC) is a rare variant of ductal carcinoma of the breast and is characterized by high metastatic potential and an aggressive clinical course. This tumour is hence ideal for studying the mechanism underlying tumour biological behaviour, especially metastasis. Cell adhesion molecules, such as CD44 and E-cadherin (Ecad), and angiogenesis are considered important in the invasion and metastasis of tumours.
Methods and results: We immunohistochemically analysed 23 IMPCs for expression of a standard form of CD44 (CD44s), Ecad, and CD34 to measure microvessel density (MVD). Results are compared with the changes observed in 23 tubular carcinomas (TCs), another variant of ductal carcinoma that rarely metastasizes. Evaluation of haematoxylin and eosin (H&E) sections showed a higher prevalence of lymph-vascular invasion (19/23, 83%) and regional lymph node involvement (12/15, 80%) in IMPCs; whereas no lymph-vascular invasion or lymph node metastasis was identified in TCs. Loss or reduction of CD44s immunoreactivity was significantly frequent in IMPC (39%) compared with TC (4%) (P = 0.0098), and was associated with positive axillary lymph nodes and lymph-vascular invasion. All cases of IMPC and TC strongly expressed Ecad. MVD (in five 200x fields) was significantly higher in IMPC (88 +/- 37) than in TC (57 +/- 16) (P = 0.001). In the IMPC group, MDV was higher in cases with positive lymph node(s) (P = 0.048), and cases with loss or reduction of CD44s expression (P = 0.011). The same trend was also demonstrated in cases with lymph-vascular invasion (P = 0.077). Moreover, the vessels in IMPC had much smaller calibres with thinner walls than those in TC.
Conclusions: Loss of the CD44 adhesion molecule and high MVD may play a significant role in the high incidence of lymph-vascular permeation and metastasis in IMPC.