Breast cancer can recur even decades after the primary therapy. Markers are needed to predict cancer progression and the risk of late recurrence. The estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2), proliferation marker Ki-67, and cytokeratin CK5 were studied to find out whether their expression or occurrence in subgroups of breast cancers correlated with the time of recurrence. The expression of HER2, ER, PR, Ki-67, and CK5 was studied by IHC in 72 primary breast cancers and their corresponding recurrent/metastatic lesions. The patients were divided into three groups according to the time of the recurrence/metastasis: before two years, after 5 years, and after 10 years. Based on their IHC profiles, the tumors were divided into surrogates of the genetically defined subgroups of breast cancers and the subtype definitions were as follows: luminal A (ER or PR+HER2-), luminal B (ER or PR+HER2+), HER2 overexpressing (ER-PR-HER2+), triple-negative (ER-PR-HER2-), basal-like (ER-PR-HER2-CK5+), non-classified (ER-PR-HER2-CK5-) and luminobasal (ER or PR+CK5+). In multivariate analysis, tumor size and HER2 positivity were a significant risk of early cancer relapse. The metastases showed a significantly lower CK5 expression. CK5 positivity distinguished triple negative tumors into rapidly and slowly recurring cancers. The IHC subtype ER or PR+HER2- luminal A presented a significantly lower risk of early tumor recurrence. Ki-67 expression denoted early-relapsing tumors and correlated linearly with tumor progression, since Ki-67 positivity declined gradually from early-relapsing toward late-recurring cancers.
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