Background: Ductal lavage is a method of minimal epithelial sampling of the breast, with potential utility for repeat sampling and biomarker analysis in chemoprevention studies. We report here the baseline findings from a study designed to assess the utility of ductal lavage in this setting. Methods: Tamoxifen-eligible, high-risk women underwent ductal lavage; epithelial cell number (ECN) and morphology were assessed on Papanicolaou-stained slides. Additional slides were immunostained for estrogen receptor (ER) α, Ki-67, and cyclooxygenase-2, and the labeling index (LI) was established by counting negative and positive cells. The ductal lavage supernatant (DLS) was assayed for estradiol, several of its precursors, progesterone, cathepsin D, interleukin-6, and epidermal growth factor (EGF). Results: One hundred sixty-eight women have entered the study (mean age, 51 years; mean 5-year Gail score, 2.8). Ductal lavage was accomplished in 145 (86.3%) women. Data were analyzed by duct and by woman (averaging data across all ducts). Mild atypia was seen in 43 of 145 (29.6%), whereas severe atypia was seen in 2 (1.4%) of women. We observed significant positive correlations between ECN and cytologic atypia, ER LI, cyclooxygenase-2 LI, and Ki-67 LI. EGF levels in supernatant were significantly associated with estrogenic precursors, ER LI and ECN. A factor representing the DLS hormone and protein variables explained 36% of the variance; total ECN was highest when factor score and ER LI were high and was lowest when both were low (P for interaction = 0.001). Conclusions: Biomarker analyses in epithelial cells and DLS are feasible. The significant associations of EGF with other markers suggest a possible role in increasing epithelial cell mass.
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