Background: Androgen receptor (AR), a nuclear steroid hormone receptor, is differentially expressed in breast cancer subgroups with distinct clinical implications.
Methods: To investigate the clinical significance of AR in breast cancers more precisely, the expression of AR in a large cohort of breast cancer was correlated with clinicopathological features, biomarker expression, and patients' survival according to different molecular groupings in this study.
Results: Higher AR expression was found in ER+ (57.8 %) than in ER- (24.7 %) cancers. In the ER+ cancers, AR expression was associated with favorable clinicopathological features, including lower grade (p < .001), lower pT stage (p < .001), and positivity for PR (p < .001). It was an independent prognostic factor for longer disease-free survival, mainly in the HER2+ luminal B cancers (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.251, 95 % CI 0.065-0.972, p = .045). In ER- cancers, AR expression was associated with features distinct from basal-like breast cancer, and such features were found in molecular apocrine (MA) cancers. AR correlated with presence of extensive in situ component (p = .006) and apocrine phenotype (p < .001), HER2 (p = .026), and EGFR (p = .048), but negatively with c-kit (p = .041), CK5/6 (p < .001), CK14 (p = .002), and αB-crystallin (p = .038). However, AR expression was found only in 37.8 % of immunohistochemically defined MA. Of note, AR-MA appeared to have a trend of worse overall survival than AR+MA.
Conclusions: AR expression was different in ER+ and ER- cancers and had different clinical implications. AR alone may not be a good marker for MA subtype. Its expression in MA may have substantial prognostic implication and as such warrants further validation.