Mammary field cancerization: molecular evidence and clinical importance. Academic Article Review uri icon


  • The term "field cancerization" originally denoted the presence of histologically abnormal tissue/cells surrounding primary tumors of the head and neck. Similar concepts with different and continuously changing definitions have been used for other types of tumors including breast adenocarcinoma, where field cancerization presently denotes the occurrence of molecular alterations in histologically normal tissues surrounding areas of overt cancer. Human mammary tissue morphology lends itself to the proposed concepts of field cancerization, which may include the gradual accumulation of genetic and other aberrations in stationary epithelial cells with intact morphology, or the spread of histologically normal yet genetically aberrant epithelial cells within mammary tissue. In this report, we review published molecular genetic, epigenetic, and gene expressional data in support of field cancerization in human mammary tissues. We then discuss the clinical implications of mammary field cancerization, including its source for potential biomarkers with diagnostic/prognostic potential, and its relationship to surgical margins and disease recurrence. We conclude with a future outlook on further research on mammary field cancerization addressing experimental methods, as well as the development of possible models and integrated approaches to gain a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms with the ultimate goal of developing clinical applications.

publication date

  • January 1, 2009