Metastatic Breast Cancer and Hormonal Receptor Status among a Group of Women in Sub Saharan Africa

Nabawanuka A, Galukande M, Nalwoga H, Gakwaya A

College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.

Correspondence to: Prof. Moses Galukande, P. O. Box 7072 Kampala Email:


Background: Breast cancer is the third commonest cancer in women in Uganda. The majority of breast cancer patients in Uganda present with advanced disease. Many studies show that metastatic lesions frequently lodge in bones, lung and liver. Tumour hormone receptor status correlates with site of metastatic lesions and survival among breast cancer patients.

Objective: To determine the sites of metastatic breast lesions and how they relate to the hormonal receptor status.

Methods: In this cross sectional descriptive study, 71 women with histologically confirmed incident breast cancer with metastases were analysed, their hormonal receptor status was determined. All patients underwent a chest X-ray, an abdominopelvic ultrasound scan and a bone scan. The χ² and t tests were used to compare variables for statistical differences.

Results: The mean age of participants was 45 years. Most metastases were to bone 56% (40/71), of these 45% (32/71 ) tumours were exclusive to bone and 94% of these (30/32) were ER+ . Of the 13 (18% of all patients) who had metastases to the liver, 7 were exclusive to the liver, and 1 (14.%) was ER positive. Of the 30 (42 %) patients with lung metastases, 23 patients were exclusive to lungs and 9/30 (39%) were ER+. In all 68% (48/71) were ER+, and bone metastases were associated with ER positivity and low grade tumors.

Conclusion: Breast metastases had a preponderance to bone in this largely premenopausal group of women and these tumors were mostly ER positive. In the absence of tests to determine ER status, empirical antihormonal therapy may be used.


Key words: Metastatic Breast Cancer, Hormonal Receptor Status


Worldwide almost one third (32%) of all cancers diagnosed in women are breast cancer responsible for 18% of cancer deaths in women (1). Breast cancer in sub Sahara Africa present in relatively young women, mostly in late stage III and IV. It runs an aggressive course and carry a low 5 year survival rate (2). Breast cancer incidence in Uganda has nearly tripled from 11: 100,000 in 1961 to 31:100,000 in 2006 (3). Close to a third of the patients present with metastatic disease and thus the outcome of treatment is inevitably unsatisfactory (2).


Breast cancer metastases frequently occur in bones, lungs and the liver, and therefore, the investigations recommended include bone scan, chest X-ray and liver ultrasound other imaging studies such as computer tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be performed to confirm the presence of metastases (4).


It is widely recognized that tumour hormone receptor status correlates with overall survival in metastatic breast cancer but there is little focus on the potential correlation between tumour receptor status and patterns of disease spread among breast cancer patients (5).

The aim of this study therefore was to investigate the distribution of metastatic lesions and how they relate to hormonal receptor status.



Study design

A cross sectional descriptive study


Study setting

It was conducted at the Mulago Breast clinic from November 2010 to June 2011. Mulago is the national referral and teaching Hospital for Makerere University. The hospital receives approximately 250 incident cases of breast cancer per year. It is situated 2km from Kampala city center and has a capacity of 1500 beds. The breast care services are available all week with an outpatient clinic operating once a week The patients are referred to the breast clinic from within and out of the hospital; from private clinics and other hospitals country wide. Mulago is the only centre in Uganda that offers free and comprehensive specialist led breast cancer services


Study procedure

Upon presentation to the Breast unit a full history and clinical examination were performed. The physical examination included determining the primary tumour size and nodal involvement (axillary, infraclavicular and supraclavicular). A chest X-ray, abdominopelvic ultrasound scan and bone scan to determine the presence of metastases. Three core biopsies were taken and analysed for tumor type, grade by histology. The hormonal receptor status was determined by immunohistochemistry tests using a primary tumor sample.


The required sample size (n) was calculated using the formula developed by Kish and Leislie6. All 71 patients with confirmed invasive breast cancer with metastases were eligible. Patients with evidence of other concurrent cancers and or had started on any form of anti-cancer therapy were excluded.


Data collection

Data were collected using a structured and pretested questionnaire and entered using Epidata computer soft ware version 3.1 and transferred to SPSS version 16 for cleaning and analysis. We used the t-test to compare continuous variables. We evaluated associations between variables using the Pearson’s χ² test. Differences between variables were considered statistically significant when the p-value of any statistical test used was < 0.05.

Ethical consideration

Written informed consent was obtained from each participant. Ethical approval was obtained from the School of Medicine Ethics and Research committee at the College of Health Sciences at Makerere University.



We recruited 98 patients with metastatic breast cancer, 8 patients were excluded because they did not return to the breast clinic to complete data gathering, and 19 were dropped due to incomplete or inconclusive investigation results. Analysis was therefore done for 71 women with histologically confirmed invasive breast cancer and had metastases.

Click to view  table 1


Out of 71 patients 48 (68%) were ER+, 23 (32%) were ER negative and 35 (49.3%) had PR positive tumours.



Table 1 shows the receptor status distribution


Age distribution


The age distribution of the patients is shown in figure 1 The age range of the patients was 23-81 years, with a mean age of 45years (SD 13 years) and a median age of 45years. Women ≤ 45 years comprised the majority 36/71 (51%). Out of 71 patients, 21 (30%) were postmenopausal whereas 50 patients (70%) were premenopausal.

Click to view figure 1


Age at diagnosis


Metastatic sites and histological type

The most common h