Molecular phenotype of the foci in multifocal invasive breast carcinomas: Intertumoral heterogeneity is related to shorter survival and may influence the choice of therapy




Multiple synchronous, ipsilateral, invasive foci of breast carcinomas are frequent and are associated with a poorer prognosis. Few studies have investigated the prognostic and therapeutic implications of heterogeneity of such foci.


The authors reviewed the tumor type, grade, and size of all invasive foci in a series of 110 multifocal breast carcinomas documented on large-format slides. Molecular phenotype was determined by immunohistochemistry in tissue microarray blocks using 3 classification systems. The survival of patients who had tumors with microscopic (tumor type and/or grade) heterogeneity and of those who had tumors with phenotypic heterogeneity was compared with the survival of patients who had multifocal homogeneous tumors using Kaplan-Meier curves. The hazard ratio of dying from breast cancer was also calculated.


Intertumoral heterogeneity in tumor type and grade was detected in 16 of 110 tumors (14.6%) and in 6 of 110 tumors (5.5%), respectively. The molecular phenotype of invasive tumor foci within the same breast differed in 10% to 12.7% of patients (11-14 of 110 tumors), depending on the classification system used. Patients who had phenotypically heterogeneous, multifocal cancers had a greater risk of dying from disease (HR=2.879; 95%CI=1.084−7.649; P = .034) and had significantly shorter survival (P = .016). Phenotypic differences were most common in patients who had tumors that were homogeneous in terms of tumor type (11 of 18 tumors) and histology grade (14 of 18 tumors). Phenotyping additional tumor foci had the potential to influence the therapeutic decisions in up to 8 patients.


Phenotyping more than 1 invasive focus of multifocal breast carcinomas only if the individual foci deviate microscopically appears to be insufficient, because phenotypic intertumoral heterogeneity may be observed in microscopically identical foci and has potential prognostic and therapeutic consequences. Cancer 2014;120:26–34. © 2013 American Cancer Society.