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Keywords:

  • breast cancer;
  • S-phase fraction;
  • flow cytometry;
  • survival;
  • cytopathology;
  • fine needle aspirates;
  • multivariate analysis

Background:  The prognostic significance of DNA ploidy and the S-phase fraction (SPF) have been extensively studied in breast cancer, but their clinical utility remains controversial. The type of tumour material can substantially influence flow cytometric DNA measurements. Material obtained by fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy is very suitable for flow cytometric DNA analysis because it contains a low proportion of non-tumour cells and less debris than tissue samples.

Methods:  The prognostic significance of DNA ploidy and SPF, determined on FNA samples, was analysed in 770 breast cancer patients, diagnosed between 1992 and 1997. DNA ploidy and SPF were determined at the time of diagnosis as part of the diagnostic work-up. The median follow-up was 90 months. Survival analysis included overall cancer specific survival (OS), disease free survival (DFS) and survival after recurrence (SAR). Other variables included in survival analyses were age, histological grade, histological type, lymph node status and tumour size. Disease free interval and the site of recurrence were also included in SAR analysis.

Results:  DNA ploidy and SPF correlated with tumour type, size, lymph node involvement and, especially, tumour grade. In a univariate analysis, both aneuploidy and high SPF were associated with shorter OS, DFS and SAR, but only SPF retained its independent prognostic significance in multivariate analyses. Independent prognostic variables for OS were node status, histological grade, SPF and tumour size. Node status, histological grade and SPF were independent predictors of DFS, while the site of recurrence, SPF, histological grade, disease free interval and age were independent predictors of SAR.

Conclusions:  DNA ploidy and SPF can be efficiently and routinely determined on FNA samples. High SPF is independently associated with a worse clinical outcome of patients with breast cancer. Although SPF and histological grade share prognostic information to some degree, SPF provides additional, less subjective prognostic information. The prognostic value of SPF determined on FNA samples could be even more relevant in neoadjuvant settings and for patients not amenable for surgical treatment, when histological grade cannot be assessed.