Background: Experimental evidence suggests that the growth of a tumor beyond a certain size requires angiogenesis, which may also permit metastasis. To investigate how tumor angiogenesis correlates with metastases in breast carcinoma, we counted microvessels (capillaries and venules) and graded the density of microvessels within the initial invasive carcinomas of 49 patients (30 with metastases and 19 without).
Methods: Using light microscopy, we highlighted the vessels by staining their endothelial cells immunocytochemically for factor VIII. The microvessels were carefully counted (per 200x field), and their density was graded (1 to 4+), in the most active areas of neovascularization, without knowledge of the outcome in the patient, the presence or absence of metastases, or any other pertinent variable.
Results: Both microvessel counts and density grades correlated with metastatic disease. The mean (+/- SD) count and grade in the patients with metastases were 101 +/- 49.3 and 2.95 +/- 1.00 vessels, respectively. The corresponding values in the patients without metastases were significantly lower--45 +/- 21.1 and 1.38 +/- 0.82 (P = 0.003 and P less than or equal to 0.001, respectively). For each 10-microvessel increase in the count per 200x field, there was a 1.59-fold increase in the risk of metastasis (95 percent confidence interval, 1.19 to 2.12; P = 0.003). The microvessel count and density grade also correlated with distant metastases. For each 10-microvessel increase in the vessel count per 200x field, there was a 1.17-fold increase in the risk of distant metastasis (95 percent confidence interval, 1.02 to 1.34; P = 0.029).
Conclusions: The number of microvessels per 200x field in the areas of most intensive neovascularization in an invasive breast carcinoma may be an independent predictor of metastatic disease either in axillary lymph nodes or at distant sites (or both). Assessment of tumor angiogenesis may therefore prove valuable in selecting patients with early breast carcinoma for aggressive therapy.