The relations among pretreatment tumor-proliferative activity, progesterone receptor (PgR) status, estrogen receptor (ER) level, and clinical outcome were analyzed in a series of 45 ER-positive advanced breast cancer postmenopausal women treated with tamoxifen (20 mg/day) until disease progression. Tritiated thymidine ([3H]dThd) Labeling Index (LI) by autoradiographic assay was utilized for proliferative activity analysis, whereas the dextran-coated charcoal method was used for ER and PgR evaluation (cutoff value, 10 fmol/mg of protein cytosol). The median [3H]-dThd LI value was 1.8%; 73% of cases were PgR positive, and 53% were highly ER positive (>100 fmol/mg of protein cytosol). Clinical responses were more frequently observed in slowly than in quickly proliferating tumors (86% versus 60%; P < 0.05) but were similar for PgR-positive and -negative cases, as well as for those with high and low ER positivity. Only [3H]dThd LI was found to individualize patients with different survival rates (at 40 mo of follow-up, 78% versus 40% in slowly and quickly proliferating tumors, respectively). The [3H]dThd LI, monitored in ten patients by a second tumor biopsy after 14 days of tamoxifen therapy, was found to have a significantly lower median value (P = 0.03). These data indicate that pretreatment [3H]dThd LI provides information, which is not available in a study of PgR and ER status, on the clinical outcome of ER-positive advanced breast cancer patients treated by hormone therapy.


Supported by the National Council of Research, Rome, Italy, Progetto Finalizato Oncologia No. 88.00795.44, and the Italian Ministry of Health.

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