Evaluating tumor heterogeneity in immunohistochemistry-stained breast cancer tissue

Lab Invest. 2012 Sep;92(9):1342-57. doi: 10.1038/labinvest.2012.91. Epub 2012 Jul 16.


Quantitative clinical measurement of heterogeneity in immunohistochemistry staining would be useful in evaluating patient therapeutic response and in identifying underlying issues in histopathology laboratory quality control. A heterogeneity scoring approach (HetMap) was designed to visualize a individual patient's immunohistochemistry heterogeneity in the context of a patient population. HER2 semiquantitative analysis was combined with ecology diversity statistics to evaluate cell-level heterogeneity (consistency of protein expression within neighboring cells in a tumor nest) and tumor-level heterogeneity (differences of protein expression across a tumor as represented by a tissue section). This approach was evaluated on HER2 immunohistochemistry-stained breast cancer samples using 200 specimens across two different laboratories with three pathologists per laboratory, each outlining regions of tumor for scoring by automatic cell-based image analysis. HetMap was evaluated using three different scoring schemes: HER2 scoring according to American Society of Clinical Oncology and College of American Pathologists (ASCO/CAP) guidelines, H-score, and a new continuous HER2 score (HER2(cont)). Two definitions of heterogeneity, cell-level and tumor-level, provided useful independent measures of heterogeneity. Cases where pathologists had disagreement over reads in the area of clinical importance (+1 and +2) had statistically significantly higher levels of tumor-level heterogeneity. Cell-level heterogeneity, reported either as an average or the maximum area of heterogeneity across a slide, had low levels of dependency on the pathologist choice of region, while tumor-level heterogeneity measurements had more dependence on the pathologist choice of regions. HetMap is a measure of heterogeneity, by which pathologists, oncologists, and drug development organizations can view cell-level and tumor-level heterogeneity for a patient for a given marker in the context of an entire patient cohort. Heterogeneity analysis can be used to identify tumors with differing degrees of heterogeneity, or to highlight slides that should be rechecked for QC issues. Tumor heterogeneity plays a significant role in disconcordant reads between pathologists.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Genes, erbB-2
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Staining and Labeling