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Defining invasion in breast cancer: the role of basement membrane

Ghannam, Suzan F; Rutland, Catrin Sian; Allegrucci, Cinzia; Mongan, Nigel P; Rakha, Emad

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Suzan F Ghannam

Catrin Sian Rutland

Professor of Oncology

Professor of Breast Cancer Pathology


Basement membrane (BM) is an amorphous, sheet-like structure separating the epithelium from the stroma. BM is characterised by a complex structure comprising collagenous and non-collagenous proteoglycans and glycoproteins. In the breast, the thickness, density and composition of the BM around the ductal lobular system vary during differing development stages. In pathological conditions, the BM provides a physical barrier that separates proliferating intraductal epithelial cells from the surrounding stroma, and its absence or breach in malignant lesions is a hallmark of invasion and metastases. Currently, diagnostic services often use special stains and immunohistochemistry (IHC) to identify the BM in order to distinguish in situ from invasive lesions. However, distinguishing BM on stained sections, and differentiating the native BM from the reactive capsule or BM-like material surrounding some invasive malignant breast tumours is challenging. Although diagnostic use of the BM is being replaced by myoepithelial cell IHC markers, BM is considered by many to be a useful marker to distinguish in situ from invasive lesions in ambiguous cases. In this review, the structure, function and biological and clinical significance of the BM are discussed in relation to the various breast lesions with emphasis on how to distinguish the native BM from alternative pathological tissue mimicking its histology.


Ghannam, S. F., Rutland, C. S., Allegrucci, C., Mongan, N. P., & Rakha, E. (2022). Defining invasion in breast cancer: the role of basement membrane. Journal of Clinical Pathology,

Journal Article Type Review
Acceptance Date Oct 1, 2022
Online Publication Date Oct 17, 2022
Publication Date Oct 17, 2022
Deposit Date Oct 28, 2022
Publicly Available Date Nov 2, 2022
Journal Journal of Clinical Pathology
Print ISSN 0021-9746
Electronic ISSN 1472-4146
Publisher BMJ
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords CARCINOMA, Breast Neoplasms, BREAST, COLLAGEN
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