The oestrogen receptor content of 61 breast carcinomas was assessed by biochemical ligand binding assay and three immunohistochemical techniques--a frozen section method (Abbott ER-ICA) and on paraffin wax sections after fixation by two methods. The two fixatives used were Carson's buffered formalin and methacarn, and a DNAse pretreatment of sections was used. Overall agreement for the immunohistochemical methods with the ligand binding technique were 95%, 85%, and 86% for the frozen, formalin, and methacarn methods, respectively. A semiquantitative staining score was performed and all three methods gave significant correlations of staining scores with biochemical ligand binding values. The frozen section method was best (r = 0.88) with the fixed tissue methods yielding poorer correlation coefficients. Several factors affected staining, including the nature of the fixative and variable activity of DNAse. It is concluded that immunohistochemical assessment of oestrogen receptor content on fixed tissue provides acceptable qualitative information but that standardisation of protocols for tissue processing will be necessary for optimal utility and especially for quantitative assessments.
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