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Purpose: Nuclear grade of breast DCIS is considered during patient management decision-making although it may have only a modest prognostic association with therapeutic outcome. We hypothesized that visual inspection may miss substantive differences in nuclei classified as having the same nuclear grade. To test this hypothesis, we measured subvisual nuclear features by quantitative image cytometry for nuclei with the same grade, and tested for statistical differences in these features.
Experimental design and statistical analysis: Thirty-nine nuclear digital image features of about 100 nuclei were measured in digital images of H&E stained slides of 81 breast biopsy specimens. One field with at least 5 ducts was evaluated for each patient. We compared features of nuclei with the same grade in multiple ducts of the same patient with ANOVA (or Welch test), and compared features of nuclei with the same grade in two ducts of different patients using 2-sided t-tests (P ≤ 0.05). Also, we compared image features for nuclei in patients with single grade to those with the same grade in patients with multiple grades using t-tests.
Results: Statistically significant differences were detected in nuclear features between ducts with the same nuclear grade, both in different ducts of the same patient, and between ducts in different patients with DCIS of more than one grade.
Conclusion: Nuclei in ducts visually described as having the same nuclear grade had significantly different subvisual digital image features. These subvisual differences may be considered additional manifestations of heterogeneity over and above differences that can be observed microscopically. This heterogeneity may explain the inconsistency of nuclear grading as a prognostic factor.
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