Tumor infiltrating leukocyte density is independent of tumor grade and molecular subtype in aggressive breast cancer of Western Kenya

Rispah T. Sawe, Simeon K. Mining, Ayub V. Ofulla, Kirtika Patel, Bernard Guyah, David Chumba, Jenifer R. Prosperi, Maggie Kerper, Zonggao Shi, Mayra Sandoval-Cooper, Katherine Taylor, Sunil Badve, M. Sharon Stack, Laurie E. Littlepage

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2 Scopus citations


Background: Tumors commonly are infiltrated by leukocytes, or tumor infiltrating leukocytes (TILs). It remains unclear, however, if the density and type of individual TILs has a direct or simply correlative role in promoting poor prognosis in breast cancer patients. Breast cancer in Kenyan women is aggressive with presentation at a young age, with advanced grade (grade III), large tumor size (>2.0 cm), and poor prognosis. We previously observed that the tumors were predominantly estrogen receptor positive (ER+) but also included both a high percentage of triple negative tumors and also increased immune cell infiltration within the tumors. We used breast tumor tissues from each patient to make tissue microarrays that were then stained for leukocyte and myeloid markers including CD4, CD8, CD20, CD25, CD68, and CD163 using immunohistochemical techniques. The immune cell infiltration into the cancer tissue included increased numbers of macrophages (CD68+), helper T cells (CD4+), and CD25+ lymphocytes compared to benign tissue. Results: This study characterized the grade, molecular subtypes, and proliferation index of these tumors and determined if TIL density was enriched across any of these factors. We analyzed 49 malignant patient tissue samples for this study. The patient population had a mean age of 51.9 years. The tumors analyzed were heterogeneous by grade: grade I (6%), grade II (47%), and grade III (39%). Most patients presented with large tumors (>2.0 cm) (69%). We classified the tumors into molecular subtypes based on clinical marker expression. Based on this analysis, the molecular subtype distribution was heterogeneous with luminal B (41%), basal/triple negative (TN) (37%), luminal A (14%) and HER2 (8%) breast cancer subtypes. While the basal/TN subtype had a much higher proliferative index (Ki-67+) than did the other molecular subtypes, we did not see a significant correlation between TIL density and either subtype or tumor grade. Therefore, TIL density is independent of molecular subtype and grade. Conclusion: This study identified a Kenyan patient cohort that develops large, high-grade tumors primarily of the luminal B and basal molecular subtypes. After analyzing the TILs within these tumors, we found that immune cell infiltration of these tumors correlated with increased proliferation but not grade or molecular subtype. Future research is required to determine if the aberrant recruitment of TILs to tumors contributes to cancer progression and response to cancer treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number19
JournalTropical Medicine and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 4 2017


  • Advanced
  • African
  • Aggressive breast cancer
  • Breast cancer subtypes
  • Kenyan
  • Tumor infiltrating leukocytes (TILs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases

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    Sawe, R. T., Mining, S. K., Ofulla, A. V., Patel, K., Guyah, B., Chumba, D., Prosperi, J. R., Kerper, M., Shi, Z., Sandoval-Cooper, M., Taylor, K., Badve, S., Stack, M. S., & Littlepage, L. E. (2017). Tumor infiltrating leukocyte density is independent of tumor grade and molecular subtype in aggressive breast cancer of Western Kenya. Tropical Medicine and Health, 45(1), [19]. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41182-017-0059-4