The most life-threatening aspect of breast cancer is the occurrence of metastatic disease. The tumor draining lymph nodes typically are the first sites of metastasis in breast cancer. Collagen I fibers and the extracellular matrix have been implicated in breast cancer to form avenues for metastasis. In this study, we have investigated extracellular matrix molecules such as collagen I fibers in the lymph nodes of mice bearing orthotopic human breast cancer xenografts. The lymph nodes in mice with metastatic MDA-MB-231 and SUM159 tumor xenografts and tumor xenografts grown from circulating tumor cell lines displayed an increased collagen I density compared to mice with no tumor and mice with non-metastatic T-47D and MCF-7 tumor xenografts. These results suggest that cancer cells that have metastasized to the lymph nodes can modify the extracellular matrix components of these lymph nodes. Clinically, collagen density in the lymph nodes may be a good marker for identifying lymph nodes that have been invaded by breast cancer cells.
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