Several studies have demonstrated the de novo formation of lymphatic vessels or the reorganization of lymphatic sinus in tumor-draining lymph nodes, partly preceding the detection of lymphatic metastases. This "lymphovascular niche"is supposed to facilitate the survival of metastatic tumor cells. Few studies on nodal lymphangiogenesis in invasive breast cancer (BC) have been published, not considering tumor-free sentinel lymph nodes (SLN) and tumor types. Specimens of SLN and/ or non-SLN (NSLN) of 95 patients with BC were examined immunohistochemically for expression of the lymphatic endothelial marker D2-40 (podoplanin) on lymphatic vessels and the subcapsular sinus. The number of D2-40-positive lymph vessels in metastases was evaluated with two morphometric methods (Chalkley count and number per HPF). Data was explored with respect to TNM parameters, grading, tumor type, size of metastasis, lymph vessel number and hormone receptor/HER2 status with appropriate statistical tests. Lymphangiogenesis was detected exclusively in and around BC metastases with both methods for lymph vessel quantification being equivalent. Lymph vessel number correlated with the size of metastases, being significantly higher in larger metastases (p < 0.001). There was no significant statistical difference with respect to tumor types. Intranodal lymphangiogenesis could not be verified by D2-40 staining in any of the tumor-free lymph nodes examined. However, D2-40 was frequently detected in sinus endothelial/virgultar cells of the subcapsular sinus, partly with strong uniform positivity. Staining intensity and stained proportion of the subcapsular sinus were markedly heterogeneous, significantly correlating with each other both in SLN and NSLN (p < 0.001). A higher proportion of D2-40 stained subcapsular sinus in SLN was significantly associated with worse overall survival (p = 0.0036) and an independent prognostic parameter in multivariate analysis (p = 0.033, HR 2.87). Further studies are necessary to elucidate the biological and clinical significance of the observed immunophenotypic variations of nodal sinus endothelium.
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