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Immunohistochemical demonstration of oestrogen and progesterone receptors: correlation of standards achieved on in house tumours with that achieved on external quality assessment material in over 150 laboratories from 26 countries
  1. A Rhodes1,
  2. B Jasani3,
  3. A J Balaton4,
  4. K D Miller2
  1. 1Department of Histopathology, UCL Medical School, University Street, London WC1E 6JJ, UK
  2. 2Department of Histopathology, UCL Medical School
  3. 3Department of Pathology, University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff CF4 4XN, UK
  4. 4Centre de Pathologie, 20 Avenue de la Gare, 91570 Bievres, France
  1. Mr Rhodes email: rmkdhcr{at}


Aims—To investigate the sensitivity of immunohistochemical (IHC) assays for oestrogen receptors (ER) and progesterone receptors (PR) achieved by laboratories on breast tumours fixed and processed in their own department, and to compare this with the degree of sensitivity they achieve on tumours circulated as part of an external quality assessment (EQA) programme.

Methods—On 10 occasions between April 1994 and June 1998, histological sections from breast cancers showing various degrees of expression of ER and PR were circulated for IHC staining to laboratories participating in the UK national external quality assessment scheme for immunocytochemistry (UK NEQAS-ICC). The staining of these tumours, in addition to that of tumours fixed and processed in the participants own laboratories (in house tumours), was assessed by a panel of four assessors, using the established UK NEQAS-ICC scoring system. For a selected assessment run, the degree of expression of participants in house tumours was evaluated by means of the semiquantitative quick score method.

Results—Although the scores awarded for the staining of in house tumours were generally higher than those awarded for the staining of UK NEQAS tumours, there was also a significant positive correlation between the two sets of scores. Using the quick score method of evaluation for one of the assessment runs, 47% of in house tumours were classified as having a high degree of ER expression. Of the remaining cases, a significant proportion initially classified as having only low or medium expression of ER were found to have higher expression when stained by the organising laboratory. The UK NEQAS-ICC centre's routine assay for hormonal receptors was found to be 90–100% efficient in achieving optimal demonstration of breast tumours from over 150 different laboratories.

Conclusions—The significant positive correlation between the results obtained on the UK NEQAS tumours and the in house tumours provides evidence for the view that results achieved on EQA material are accurate indicators of in house laboratory performance. Although most laboratories adequately detected tumours with high receptor expression, a large proportion of in house tumours classified initially by participants' staining as being of low or medium ER expression had a higher degree of expression when stained by the UK NEQAS-ICC centre. The efficiency of the organising centre's routine IHC method for ER and PR in optimally demonstrating participants in house breast tumours shows that variations in fixation and tissue preparation are not limiting factors preventing a different laboratory achieving optimal demonstration.

  • immunohistochemistry
  • oestrogen receptors
  • progesterone receptors
  • external quality assessment

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