Influence of decalcification procedures on immunohistochemistry and molecular pathology in breast cancer

Willemijne A.M.E. Schrijver, Petra Van Der Groep, Laurien Dc Hoefnagel, Natalie D. Ter Hoeve, Ton Peeters, Cathy B. Moelans, Paul J. Van Diest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Distant breast cancer metastases are nowadays routinely biopsied to reassess receptor status and to isolate DNA for sequencing of druggable targets. Bone metastases are the most frequent subgroup. Decalcification procedures may negatively affect antigenicity and DNA quality. We therefore evaluated the effect of several decalcification procedures on receptor status and DNA/RNA quality. In 23 prospectively collected breast tumors, we compared ERα, PR and HER2 status by immunohistochemistry in (non-decalcified) tissue routinely processed for diagnostic purposes and in parallel tissue decalcified in Christensen's buffer with and without microwave, EDTA and Formical-4. Furthermore, HER2 fluorescence in situ hybridization and DNA/RNA quantity and quality were assessed. We found that the percentage of ERα-positive cells were on average lower in EDTA (P=0.049) and Formical-4 (P=0.047) treated cases, compared with controls, and PR expression showed decreased antigenicity after Christensen's buffer treatment (P=0.041). Overall, a good concordance (weighted kappa) was seen for ERα, PR and HER2 immunohistochemistry when comparing the non-decalcified control tissues with the decalcified tissues. For two patients (9%), there was a potential influence on therapeutic decision making with regard to hormonal therapy or HER2-targeted therapy. HER2 fluorescence in situ hybridization interpretation was seriously hampered by Christensen's buffer and Formical-4, and DNA/RNA quantity and quality were decreased after all four decalcification procedures. Validation on paired primary breast tumor specimens and EDTA-treated bone metastases showed that immunohistochemistry and fluorescence in situ hybridization were well assessable and DNA and RNA yield and quality were sufficient. With this, we conclude that common decalcification procedures have only a modest negative influence on hormone and HER2 receptor immunohistochemistry in breast cancer. However, they may seriously affect DNA/RNA-based diagnostic procedures. Overall, EDTA-based decalcification is therefore to be preferred as it best allows fluorescence in situ hybridization and DNA/RNA isolation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1460-1470
Number of pages11
JournalModern Pathology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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