Nuclear cytometric changes in breast carcinogenesis

Ellen C.M. Mommers, Neal Poulin, Jadranka Sangulin, Chris J.L.M. Meijer, Jan P.A. Baak, Paulus Joannes van Diest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Breast cancer is thought to originate through progressively aberrant precursor lesions, paralleled by increasing morphological changes. The aim of this study was to quantify nuclear features by image cytometry in invasive breast cancer and its early (hyperplasia) and late (ductal carcinoma in situ) precursor lesions, in order to objectively describe nuclear changes in the spectrum of proliferative intraductal and invasive breast lesions. Image cytometry was performed on tissue sections of 20 samples of normal breast tissue, 71 of usual ductal hyperplasia (UDH), nine of atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), and 11 of well-differentiated and 13 of poorly differentiated ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) lesions. The invasive breast carcinomas consisted of 19 well-differentiated and 24 poorly differentiated lesions. Through the spectrum from normal breast tissue to invasive carcinoma, progressive changes in many nuclear features were measured. Significant differences were found between nuclei of florid ductal hyperplasia compared with mild and moderate ductal hyperplastic lesions, suggesting that florid ductal hyperplasia may be a more advanced lesion than assumed and may contain cancer precursor cells. No differences were found between ADH and well-differentiated DCIS, suggesting that these lesions are closely related. Feature values of well-differentiated DCIS were comparable to values found in well-differentiated invasive carcinoma and the same applied to poorly differentiated DCIS and invasive lesions. These results support the hypothesis that breast cancer develops through different routes of progression, one leading to well-differentiated invasive cancer through well-differentiated DCIS, and one leading to poorly differentiated invasive cancer through poorly differentiated DCIS. In conclusion, image cytometry reveals progressive changes in nuclear morphological and subvisual chromatin distribution features in the spectrum from intraductal proliferations to invasive breast cancer. This provides evidence for a progression from usual to atypical ductal hyperplasia and then to invasive cancer, through different routes for well-differentiated and poorly differentiated lesions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-39
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Breast cancer
  • Carcinoma in situ
  • Hyperplasia
  • Image cytometry
  • Nuclear texture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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