Department of Medical Oncology, Jinling Hospital, Medical School of Nanjing University, Nanjing, 210002, P.R. China
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a tumor subtype with aggressive behavior and poor clinical outcome for lacking effective therapies. Breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs) have been suggested to have tumor-initiating properties, but it remains unclear whether their presence contributes to the increased aggressiveness and poor prognosis of TNBC. Also, the breast cancers display frequent inter- and intra-tumor heterogeneity, which adds the complexity in diagnosis and predicting prognosis. Here we investigated the clinical relevance and prognostic value of the BCSC markers, CD44+/CD24-, aldehyde dehydrogenase family 1 member A1 (ALDH1A1) and CD133 in 88 TNBC cases. We found that a few patients displayed spatial heterogeneity of the BCSC markers in expression, which was defined as intratumor stemness heterogeneity (ITSH) below. There was no significant correlation between any BCSC marker alone or ITSH and progression-free survival (PFS). Interestingly, the combined BCSC phenotype by CD44+/CD24- and ALDH1A1 was significantly associated with worse PFS (P = 0.009). Further stratification analysis revealed that this combined BCSC phenotype was an independent prognostic factor for PFS in some subgroups. In conclusion, we demonstrated the existence of ITSH in TNBC and found that the ITSH as well as a single BCSC marker was not significantly associated with survival, whereas combing the analysis of BCSC markers could improve prognostic value. Our findings may lead to an improvement of prognostic indicators in TNBC.
Keywords: breast cancer stem cell, intratumor stemness heterogeneity, prognosis, triple-negative breast cancer