Gross cystic disease fluid protein 15 (GCDFP-15) is universally present in the apocrine metaplastic epithelium of cystic breast disease and breast cancer, but it is rarely found in normal breast epithelium. Therefore GCDFP-15 detected in nipple aspirates of breast fluid (NAF) could serve as a biochemical marker of the presence and possibly extent of apocrine metaplasia within the breast. GCDFP-15 levels were measured in NAF from 37 Asian and 78 non-Asian women using radioimmunoassay. GCDFP-15 (range, 0-81,643 micrograms/ml) was found in the NAF of all but 1 woman and was highly correlated between right and left breasts. Mean concentrations of GCDFP-15 were significantly lower in NAF from Asian compared with non-Asian women. Markedly reduced levels of GCDFP-15 were found in the 17 women who had been parous in the previous 2 years. In women not parous within the prior 2 years, no relationship was found between GCDFP-15 levels and age, weight, age at menarche, first-degree family history of breast cancer, parity, oral contraceptive use, or smoking history. High concentrations of GCDFP-15 were found in the NAF of women with a history of a benign breast biopsy. Because similarly high levels of GCDFP-15 were found in NAF in over 40% of women without a history of benign breast biopsy, and because GCDFP-15 in the breast is produced only by apocrine metaplastic epithelium, we infer that the breasts of these women likely contain a significant degree of apocrine metaplasia.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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