|Evidence that breast cancer associated microcalcifications are mineralized malignant cells.|
Authors: V Castronovo, A Bellahcene
Affiliations: Metastasis Research Laboratory, Tour de Pathologie, -1, Bat B23, Sart-Tilman, Liege, 4000, Belgium.
Microcalcifications are often associated with both benign and malignant human breast lesions. Around 40% of mammary carcinoma present such ectopic mineralization and frequently, they are the only mammographic feature that indicate the presence of a tumoral lesion. Microcalcifications associated with breast cancer are usually composed of hydroxyapatite, the bone specific mineral. The mechanisms responsible for the formation of such crystals within breast malignant tissue have not been elucidated. A possible clue could be provided by the recent demonstration that breast cancer cells express several bone matrix proteins including osteonectin, osteopontin and bone sialoprotein (BSP). This latter phospho-protein is involved in the initiation of hydroxyapatite crystallisation and its expression in breast cancer has been associated to the presence of hydroxyapatite microcalcifications. We examined 10 human breast cancer lesions which were characterized by the presence of microcalcifications and high expression of BSP. Histological examination of the lesions suggested, in most of the cases, that the microcalcifications were breast cancer cells which became mineralized. Hydroxyapatite stained in blue by hematoxylin appears concentrated around single of associated cancer cells. Staining of these tissue sections with 4',6 diamidino-2-phenylindole which specifically labels DNA led us to demonstrate that the mineralizated structures contain cells. These data are the first direct demonstration that breast microcalcifications are fossils of cancer cells. The mechanisms for such a phenomenon remain to be demonstrated. We speculate that the high expression of BSP could create an appropriate microenvironment for the crystallisation of calcium and phosphate into hydroxyapatite.