Intratumoral heterogeneity of Ki67 expression in early breast cancers exceeds variability between individual tumours

Cornelia M. Focke*, Thomas Decker, Paul J. van Diest

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Aims: Regional differences in proliferative activity are commonly seen within breast cancers, but little is known on the extent of intratumoral heterogeneity of Ki67 expression. Our aim was to study the intratumoral heterogeneity of Ki67 expression in early breast cancers and its association with clinicopathological features, such as oestrogen receptor (ER) status, grade and histological subtype. Methods and results: The Ki67-labelling index (Ki67-LI) was assessed in hot, cold and intermediate spots of 233 invasive breast cancers by counting a total of 1020 cells, according to a protocol of the International Ki67 in Breast Cancer Working Group. Differences between the spots per tumour were analysed further for clinicopathological subgroups defined by ER status, grade and histological subtype. All clinicopathological subgroups showed significant differences in Ki67-LI between hot, intermediate and cold spots (P <0.0001). The coefficient of variance (CV) between the spots was higher in ER-positive than in ER-negative cancers (72.6 versus 49.2%, P <0.0001), and was highest in grade 3 (96.12%), grade 1 (87.27%) and invasive lobular tumours (83.59%) and lowest in medullary (26.48%) cancers. Nested analysis of variance indicated that in both ER-positive and ER-negative cancers, variance in Ki67-LI within tumours contributed more to the total variance (56% for ER-positive, 60% for ER-negative cancers) than the variance between tumours. Conclusion: Intratumoral heterogeneity in Ki67-LI is a ubiquitous phenomenon across various pathological subgroups of breast cancer that may impact assessment of Ki67 levels for clinical decision-making, and sheds new light on recommended cut-offs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849–861
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • Breast cancer
  • Heterogeneity
  • Ki67


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