Distant metastases are the major cause of morbidity and mortality in women with breast cancer. The prediction of this metastatic proclivity is essential in determining prognosis and should allow an appropriate choice of therapy. A critical look at the metastatic process and its phenotypic expression offers an opportunity to identify some of the important events in the process that may relate to prognosis, with the goal of identifying those patients with occult metastases and also sparing systemic treatment in those patients whose tumors have not developed the capacity for distant spread. To evaluate the significance of nm23 and angiogenesis in the metastatic cascade, we used archival material from 163 node-negative breast cancer patients who had a median follow-up of 14 years. All patients underwent mastectomy and received no adjuvant chemotherapy or hormone or radiation therapy. Immunohistochemistry was used to detect nm23-H1 expression, whereas angiogenesis was determined by microvessel count (MVC). We found the 15-year disease-free survival (DFS) to be significantly better in patients with high nm23 compared with low nm23 (91% compared with 70%, P = 0.008). Low MVC is associated with excellent (92%) long-term DFS. In those patients with high MVC, high nm23 allows the identification of a subgroup with significantly higher DFS (90% compared with 66%, P = 0.02). Among high nuclear grade tumors, if nm23 is high, the DFS is significantly better (89% compared with 68%, P = 0.03). Thus, nm23 is still associated with excellent survival, even when there is unfavorable angiogenesis or nuclear grade. Multivariate analysis confirms that nm23 and MVC are important prognostic factors. High MVC appears necessary but not sufficient for metastasis to occur, whereas low nm23 may further contribute to metastatic progression. Both nm23 and MVC contribute valuable information in characterizing the malignant phenotype.
This research was partially supported by a grant from the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research.