The molecular landscape of breast mucoepidermoid carcinoma

Cancer Med. 2023 May;12(9):10725-10737. doi: 10.1002/cam4.5754. Epub 2023 Mar 14.


Mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC) of the breast is an extremely rare salivary gland-type tumor characterized by epidermoid, basaloid, intermediate, and/or mucinous cells arranged in solid and cystic patterns. Despite their triple-negative phenotype, breast MECs are generally considered low-risk malignancies but their biology is largely unexplored; therefore, guidelines for clinical management are lacking. Here, we sought to characterize the molecular landscape of breast MECs. Thirteen cases were histologically reviewed, characterized for tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), and were subjected to immunohistochemistry for programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1, clone 22C3), EGFR, and amphiregulin (AREG). Rearrangements in MAML2 and EWSR1 were investigated by fluorescent in situ hybridization. Targeted next-generation sequencing of 161 genes was performed on eight cases. Most MECs had low histological grade (n = 10, 77%), with the presence of TILs (n = 9/12; 75%) and PD-L1 combined positive score ranging from 10 to 20 (n = 4/6; 67%). All cases showed EGFR and AREG overexpression and were fusion negative. Enrichment of genetic alterations was observed in PI3K/AKT/mTOR and cell cycle regulation pathways, while only one case harbored TP53 mutations. This is the first study providing extensive molecular data on breast MECs and the largest collection of cases available to date in the literature. Breast MECs lack TP53 mutations found in high-grade forms of triple-negative breast cancers and MAML2 or EWSR1 rearrangements pathognomonic of salivary MECs. Triple-negativity and PD-L1 positivity suggest a window of opportunity for immunotherapy in these patients. The EGFR/AREG axis activation, coupled with the mutational patterns in PI3K/AKT/mTOR and cell cycle pathways warrants caution in considering MECs as low-risk neoplasms.

Keywords: biomarkers; breast cancer; diagnosis; molecular profiling; mucoepidermoid carcinoma; rare tumors; triple-negative breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • B7-H1 Antigen / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Mucoepidermoid* / chemistry
  • Carcinoma, Mucoepidermoid* / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Mucoepidermoid* / pathology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / genetics
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms* / pathology
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / genetics


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Trans-Activators
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • ErbB Receptors
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Biomarkers, Tumor