Basal phenotype breast cancer: implications for treatment and prognosis

Womens Health (Lond). 2011 Mar;7(2):181-202. doi: 10.2217/whe.11.5.


Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in females. The origins and biology of breast carcinomas remain unclear. Cellular and molecular heterogeneity results in different distinct groups of tumors with different clinical behavior and prognosis. Gene expression profiling has delineated five molecular subtypes based on similarities in gene expression: luminal A, luminal B, HER2 overexpressing, normal-like and basal-like. Basal-like breast cancer (BLBC) lacks estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and HER2 expression, and comprises myoepithelial cells. Specific features include high proliferative rate, rapid growth, early recurrence and decreased overall survival. BLBC is associated with ductal carcinoma in situ, BRCA1 mutation, brain and lung metastasis, and negative axillary lymph nodes. Currently, chemotherapy is the only therapeutic choice, but demonstrates poor outcomes. There is an overlap in definition between triple-negative breast cancer and BLBC due to the triple-negative profile of BLBC. Despite the molecular and clinical similarities, the two subtypes respond differently to neoadjuvant therapy. Although particular morphologic, genetic and clinical features of BLBC have been identified, a variety of definitions among studies accounts for the contradictory results reported. In this article the molecular morphological and histopathological profile, the clinical behavior and the therapeutic options of BLBC are presented, with emphasis on the discordant findings among studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma* / pathology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Breast Neoplasms* / classification
  • Breast Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Myoepithelioma
  • Phenotype
  • Prognosis
  • Receptors, Estrogen / analysis
  • Recurrence


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Receptors, Estrogen