Canine Mammary Gland Cancer Stem Cell and its Potential Role in Malignant Biologic Behavior

Document Type : Pathology - Clinical Pathology


Department of Pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


BACKGROUND:Canine mammary gland cancers are the most prevalent malignancies in dogs. There are different challenges regarding management of these cancers in dogs and human, one hypothesis is related to small cellular subset of tumor mass called cancer stem cell. These cells are therapy resistant and cause metastasis and relapse even after primary successful treatment. The well-identified phenotypes for detecting this population are ALDH1+/CD44+/CD24-/Low biomarkers.
OBJECTIVES: A study to evaluate existence of cancer stem cells in canine malignant mammary glands tumor and assess effects of these cells on clinicopathological parameters of tumors were designed.
METHODS: In this study forty cases of canine mammary glands tumors were collected. All cases were tested via H&E and then Immunohistochemistry (IHC) methods. All samples were evaluated immunohis- tochemically for common markers of these tumor-initiating cells. Monoclonal antibodies against ALDH1, CD44 and CD24 were used. Some tumor aggressiveness-related parameters, including lymphovascular in- vasion, tumor grades and histotypes were assessed.
RESULTS: The present study revealed that 17.5% of cases were enriched with cancer stem cells and all  of them were diagnosed as grade II and III (P ≤ 0.05). Other findings showed all cancer stem cell-positive cases were significantly lymphovascular invasion positive (P ≤ 0.05). The most common histotypes in this research were tubular, tubulopapillary and intraductal carcinomas.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results illustrated that cancer stem cells can be considered as reliable prognostic factors to predict severity of malignant behavior of canine malignant mammary glands cancer, which is  comparable with human breast cancer.


Article Title [Persian]

نقش سلول های بنیادی سرطان در معیارهای کلینیکوپاتولوژیک کارسینوماهای غدد پستانی سگ

Authors [Persian]

  • حوا مرزبان
  • فرهنگ ساسانی
گروه پاتولوژی دانشکده دامپزشکی دانشگاه تهران، تهران،ایران

Keywords [Persian]

  • تومورهای بدخیم
  • سرطان
  • سگ
  • سلولهای بنیادی
  • غدد پستانی


The incremental evidence shows breast cancer has the highest rate of incidence in both dog (more than 180 cases per 100,000) and human (over 2 million new cases) and accounts for one of the main influential caus- es of death in women and intact female dogs (Pang et al., 2011; Winters et al., 2017; Bray et al., 2018). However ,along with progres- sive development in molecular pathology and different therapeutic strategies, there is increasing concern over recurrence, metasta- sis and high range of cancer-related deaths (Case et al., 2017). A small heterogeneous population of tumor mass with mostly sim- ilar properties of normal stem cells, includ- ing self-renewal capacity and differentiation to various cellular lineages has received meticulous attention as a main cause of tu- mor recurrence (Rogez et al., 2018). These so-called cancer stem cells (CSCs) are ade- quately equipped to overcome conventional cancer therapies in comparison to other dif- ferentiated cancer cells (Madjd et al., 2012; Rybicka et al., 2016). Different researches identified widely variable ranges of CSCs from 2% in breast cancers to 27% in mela- noma (Im et al., 2015; Parmiani, 2016). Dif- ferent approaches are applied to detect and characterize these infrequent cells, including immunohistochemical staining (IHC), flow cytometry, and functional assay (Rybicka et al., 2016).

The well-accepted stem  cell  biomarkers for human breast cancer (HBC) and canine mammary glands cancer (CMGC), including ALDH1, CD44 and CD24, are used to detect these tumor initiating cells as a well-charac- terized phenotype named ALDH1+/CD44+/ CD24-/Low (Lee et al., 2011; Gavhane et al., 2016; Rybicka et al., 2016). Besides being therapy resistant, CSCs are able to create dif-


ferent biologic behaviors in cases with ap- parently similar histopathology but different metastatic potentials and patient outcomes.  So, choosing an accurate therapeutic regimen based on specific molecular features of indi- vidual's cancer for both dog and human be- comes challenging (Case et al., 2017).

In managing CMGC, veterinary oncologists come across challenges closely comparable to HBC. These spontaneously occurring tumors, in addition to clinical and molecular biologic similarities to HBC provide an opportunity to achieve the true meaning of public health with regard to both human and animal patients, with two-directional way of exchanging the latest  therapeutic  strategies  from  medicine to veterinary oncology and transferring new molecular discoveries and  vice  versa  (Pang et al., 2011; Case et al., 2017; Nguyen et al., 2018; Marconato et al., 2019).  Furthermore, in an attempt to discover CSCs potential in- teractions, the role of comparative oncology becomes increasingly apparent, in that it is possible to investigate probable correlations between these relapse-inducing cells and clin- icopathologic parameters in the most relevant animal cases that have crucially significant priorities over experimental methods such as in vitro research (Queiroga et al., 2011; Ry- bicka et al., 2016; Nguyen et al., 2018).

Since the main issues addressed in oncol- ogy research are first finding prognostic fac- tors involved in metastasis cascades and then targeting them combined with conventional methods, this research intends to evaluate prognostic capability of CSCs in CMGC as in HBC via IHC staining based on CD44, CD24, ALDH1 and to determine the probable asso- ciations between CSCs and clinicopathologi- cal features. Based on similar features in this regard, HBC treatment protocols can be used




in dog patients and all advances gained from researches in animal mammary gland cancer can be utilized in new preclinical and clinical designs for further progression. To our knowl- edge, the present study is the first Iranian re- garding CSCs existence in CMGC.

Materials and Methods

This experiment was designated as a cross-sectional study which was extended  for one year. A total of 40 samples were tak- en from referred mammary gland masses to veterinary hospitals from canines that under- went surgery during 2018-2019 and were di- agnosed as CMGC by pathologist.

Tumor histotypes

Based on Goldschmit classification (2011) just epithelial malignancies were included.

Clinical data

All clinical data, including patient ages, tumor laterality and surgical procedures were obtained from patient records and pathology reports were extracted.

Tumor grade

All slides were rechecked in order to re- grade tumor samples, based on Nottingham grading score system (Cassali et al., 2017) which categorized all breast malignancies to three grades.

Lymphovascular invasion

To determine whether lympho-vascular in- vasion (LVI) is present or not, the H&E stained slides were examined to investigate presencee of tumors cells around or inside the vessels which were reported as positive or negative cases.

IHC Procedure

Paraffin embedded blocks were selected based on proper criteria  for  IHC  staining, as follows: the largest volume of tissue, the least necrosis and the  most  invasive  part  of tumor. After cutting to 3 μm, all slides

were deparaffinized by xylene, rehydrated through ethanol and antigen retrieval was done by putting immersed slides on Tris buffer in microwave. Following that, perox- idation process was performed. Then, slides were incubated by monoclonal primary anti- bodies to assess CSCs presence at room tem- perature for 30-60 min, ALDH1 with CAT number (Sc-166362) (Mouse monoclonal antibody (H-8), dilution: 1:50-1:500), CD44 with CAT number (NBP1-47386) (CD44 antibody (8E2F3), dilution: 1:200-1:1000) and CD24 with CAT number (Sc-19651) (Rat monoclonal antibody (M1/69), dilu- tion: 1:50-1:500) were  used. Then  washing 3 times in Tris buffer, each time for 5 min was done.

After completing the exposure to second- ary antibody and HRP polymer of MACH 1 Universal HRP-polymer, Biocare Medical Co. (Pacheco, California, USA) at room temperature for 1 hr, incubation at room temperature for 30-60 min, then washing 3 times, each time 5 min in Tris buffer were done. Amplification of antigen- antibody links with betazoid DAB chromogen was done. Then samples were counterstained by hematoxylin and immersed in alcohol for dehydration and xylene for clearing, finally they were mounted.

IHC evaluation

According to modified Alred Scoring Sys- tem (Qureshi et al., 2010), semiquantitative analysis of epithelial tumoral cells immuno- reactivity at invasive parts with cutoff ≥ 1% was made. Intensity and proportion rate of CD44 and CD24 as membranous markers and ALDH1 as a cytoplasmic antigen with this cut point were estimated. The main fo- cus of the experiments was to detect CSCs- like cells, so the widely accepted phenotype, ALDH+/CD44+/CD24-/Low, was used to




call cases as positive and the remaining phenotypes were called  negative.  Posi- tive control was done based on Santa Cruz (Dallas, USA) and Novus Biological (Col- orado, USA) Company’ protocols to vali- date antibodies specificities. According to each protocol, human gall bladder tissue, formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded mouse blood smear and paraffin-embedded human lung cancer tissue are control positives for ALDH-1, CD24 and CD44, respectively, and normal mammary gland tissue accounts for negative control.

Statistical analysis

Since this study was a pilot one, exclu- sively descriptive data were generated for variables, including patient age, surgical methods, tumor laterality, tumor histolo- gy, and statistical analysis was performed only for tumor grade, CSCs and LVI sta- tus. SPSS software was used for data anal- ysis and correlation between quantitative and qualitative parameters was assessed by t-test and Chi Square test, respective- ly. It should be noted that P≤ 0.05 was considered significant.


Clinicopathological results

In the present study, 40 cases of canine mammary gland cancers were examined with the mean age of 8.61 ± 2.41 years (ranging from 5 to 14 years). Age data was not available in four cases. Tumor laterality was divided into the left and right side with 60.7% and 39.2%, respectively. Surgical methods were operated in 28 cases includ- ing: simple regional mastectomy (53.5%), unilateral mastectomy (28.7%) and lumpec- tomy (17.8%). Cancerous mammary glands were diagnosed in 78.6% of cases as sin- gle, while only 21.4% of cases had cancer- ous mass in two or more mammary glands. Involvement of regional mammary glands was categorized as thoracic, abdominal or both with 21.4%, 75.0% and 3.6%, respec- tively. Tumor grades as I, II and III were observed in 42.5%, 47.5% and 10% of cas- es, respectively. More details with regard to clinicopathologic characteristics of samples were shown in Table 2 and Figure 1.



Table 1. Description of clinicopathologic characteristics


Mean age (range)


8.61 ± 2.41






11   (30.5%)

Age group


20 (55.5%)



5 (13.8%)

Histologic grade   (n=40)


17 (42.50%)

19 (47.50%)

4 (10%)

Tumor laterality


17   (60.7%)

(n= 28)


11 (39.2%)


Surgical options   (n=28)


Simple or regional mastectomy Unilateral mastectomy

5 (17.8%)

15 (53.5%)

8 (28.7%)

Involved mammary   glands


22 (78.6%)


Two or more

6 (21.4%)




Mean age   (range)

8.61 ±   2.41


Regional frequency (n=   28)

Mammary glands thoracic region Mammary glands   abdominal region

Both   regions involved

6 (21.4%)

21   (75.0%)

1 (3.6%)






Tumor histotypes

Tubular carcinoma Tubulopapillary carcinoma Intraductal carcinoma Complex   carcinoma

Solid carcinoma Ductal carcinoma Anaplastic carcinoma

Inflammatory carcinoma Adenosquamous carcinoma

Cribriform carcinoma

13 (32.5%)

8 (20%)

6 (15%)

4 (10%)

3 (7.5%)

2 (5%)

1 (2.5%)

1 (2.5%)

1 (2.5%)

1 (2.5%)


Table 2. IHC results of CSCs markers


CSC markers




n=32 (80%)

n=8 (20%)


n=7 (17.5%)

n=33 (82.5%)


n=7 (17.5%)

n=33 (82.5%)


CSC status



n=7 (17.5%)

n=33 (82.5%)

Tumor grade

CSC positive


Grade I

n=0 (0%)


Grade II

n=5 (71.4%)


Grade III

n=2 (28.5%)