Background. Because the occurrence of breast cancer during pregnancy is uncommon and because the high levels of estrogens and progestins associated with pregnancy could cause false-negative results from ligand binding assays (LBA), the actual incidence of steroid hormone receptor positivity in tumors from this subset of women is unclear.
Methods. Estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PgR) were determined using LBA methods in 15 tumors from 15 pregnant patients with breast cancer. In addition, immunohistochemistry was done for ER, PgR, pS2, heat shock protein 27 (hsp27), and HER-2/neu on 12 of the 15 tumors.
Results. Five of 15 (33%) tumors were positive for ER by LBA, compared with 52% of tumors from age-matched nonpregnant patients. Six of 12 (50%) were ER-positive by immunohistochemistry. For PgR, 7 of 15 (47%) tumors were positive by LBA, compared with 42% of tumors from nonpregnant patients. Ten of 12 (83%) stained positive for PgR. By LBA, 67% of tumors studied were positive for ER or PgR or both, as opposed to 57% of tumors from the nonpregnant comparison group. Two other estrogen receptor-mediated proteins, pS2 and hsp27, were present by staining in 8 of 12 (67%) and 10 of 12 (83%) of tumors, respectively. Seven of 12 tumors (58%) had positive staining for HER-2/neu, whereas only 16% of age-matched nonpregnant patients had positive-staining tumors.
Conclusion. By LBA, the incidence of ER and PgR in breast tumors from pregnant women was not significantly different from that of tumors from nonpregnant age-matched patients. Some ER-negative tumors were PgR, pS2, or hsp27 positive, indicating that an intact estrogen response system was operative although ER was not detectable by standard LBA.