High mammographic density in women is associated with protumor inflammation

Cecilia W. Huo, Prue Hill, Grace Chew, Paul J. Neeson, Heloise Halse, Elizabeth D. Williams, Michael A. Henderson, Erik W. Thompson, Kara L. Britt

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26 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Epidemiological studies have consistently shown that increased mammographic density (MD) is a strong risk factor for breast cancer. We previously observed an elevated number of vimentin+/CD45+ leukocytes in high MD (HMD) epithelium. In the present study, we aimed to investigate the subtypes of immune cell infiltrates in HMD and low MD (LMD) breast tissue. Methods: Fifty-four women undergoing prophylactic mastectomy at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre or St. Vincent's Hospital were enrolled. Upon completion of mastectomy, HMD and LMD areas were resected under radiological guidance in collaboration with BreastScreen Victoria and were subsequently fixed, processed, and sectioned. Fifteen paired HMD and LMD specimens were further selected according to their fibroglandular characteristics (reasonable amount [> 20%] of tissue per block on H&E stains) for subsequent IHC analysis of immune cell infiltration. Results: Overall, immune cell infiltrates were predominantly present in breast ducts and lobules rather than in the stroma, with CD68+ macrophages and CD20+ B lymphocytes also surrounding the vasculature. Macrophages, dendritic cells (DCs), B lymphocytes, and programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) expression were significantly increased in HMD epithelium compared with LMD. Moreover, significantly higher levels of DCs, CD4+ T cells, and PD-1 were also observed in HMD stroma than in LMD stroma. The increased expression of interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-4, with unaltered interferon-γ, indicate a proinflammatory microenvironment. Conclusions: Our work indicates that the immune system may be activated very early in breast cancer development and may in part underpin the breast cancer risk associated with HMD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number92
Number of pages16
JournalBreast Cancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • B cells
  • Biomarker
  • Dendritic cells
  • Immune infiltration
  • Immunotherapy
  • Macrophages
  • Mammographic density
  • PD-L1
  • T cells

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