Columnar cell lesions of the breast: the missing link in breast cancer progression? A morphological and molecular analysis

Am J Surg Pathol. 2005 Jun;29(6):734-46. doi: 10.1097/01.pas.0000157295.93914.3b.


Columnar cell lesions (CCLs) of the breast are a spectrum of lesions that have posed difficulties to pathologists for many years, prompting discussion concerning their biologic and clinical significance. We present a study of CCL in context with hyperplasia of usual type (HUT) and the more advanced lesions ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and invasive ductal carcinoma. A total of 81 lesions from 18 patients were subjected to a comprehensive morphologic review based upon a modified version of Schnitt's classification system for CCL, immunophenotypic analysis (estrogen receptor [ER], progesterone receptor [PgR], Her2/neu, cytokeratin 5/6 [CK5/6], cytokeratin 14 [CK14], E-cadherin, p53) and for the first time, a whole genome molecular analysis by comparative genomic hybridization. Multiple CCLs from 3 patients were studied in particular detail, with topographic information and/or showing a morphologic spectrum of CCL within individual terminal duct lobular units. CCLs were ER and PgR positive, CK5/6 and CK14 negative, exhibit low numbers of genetic alterations and recurrent 16q loss, features that are similar to those of low grade in situ and invasive carcinoma. The molecular genetic profiles closely reflect the degree of proliferation and atypia in CCL, indicating some of these lesions represent both a morphologic and molecular continuum. In addition, overlapping chromosomal alterations between CCL and more advanced lesions within individual terminal duct lobular units suggest a commonality in molecular evolution. These data further support the hypothesis that CCLs are a nonobligate, intermediary step in the development of some forms of low grade in situ and invasive carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor*
  • Breast / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / pathology*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperplasia
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization


  • Biomarkers, Tumor