Expression of estrogen, progesterone and epidermal growth factor receptors in primary and metastatic breast cancer

Int J Cancer. 1995 Dec 11;63(6):790-3. doi: 10.1002/ijc.2910630607.


The prognostic value of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) expression and its biological role in estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) and ER-negative (ER-) primary breast cancer is controversial. In this study, distributions of ER, progesterone receptor and EGFR have been established using immunohistochemistry in both primary breast tumors and their matched axillary lymph node metastases of 26 patients or their matched distant metastases of 2 patients. In addition, 5 patients with bilateral breast cancer were studied. ER+ tumor cells were detected in 22 (69%) and EGFR+ tumor cells were detected in 11 (34%) primary breast carcinomas. Expression of ER and EGFR was inverse regarding the individual tumor cells in both primary tumors and metastases. Relationship of EGFR expression with poorly differentiated and large breast tumors was observed. Furthermore, primary tumors with a predominant lobular component were ER+ and, with one exception, EGFR-. Invasive ductal carcinomas were more frequently EGFR+. No apparent differences in receptor expression were observed between primary tumors and lymph node metastases or chronously or metachronously occurring bilateral breast cancers. Only one ER+ primary tumor showed a switch to EGFR expression in the involved lymph node. Our study shows that a shift in receptor phenotype between primary tumors and lymph node metastases is a rare event and, thus, additional analyses of involved lymph nodes will not likely serve as a better predictor for response to anti-estrogen therapy. We conclude that expression of EGFR is not a prerequisite for development of metastases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • ErbB Receptors / biosynthesis*
  • Estrogens / biosynthesis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / metabolism*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Middle Aged
  • Progesterone / biosynthesis*


  • Estrogens
  • Progesterone
  • ErbB Receptors