Assessment of mitotic activity in breast cancer: revisited in the digital pathology era

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The assessment of cell proliferation is a key morphological feature for diagnosing various pathological lesions and predicting their clinical behaviour. Visual assessment of mitotic figures in routine histological sections remains the gold-standard method to evaluate the proliferative activity and grading of cancer. Despite the apparent simplicity of such a well-established method, visual assessment of mitotic figures in breast cancer (BC) remains a challenging task with low concordance among pathologists which can lead to under or overestimation of tumour grade and hence affects management. Guideline recommendations for counting mitoses in BC have been published to standardise methodology and improve concordance; however, the results remain less satisfactory. Alternative approaches such as the use of the proliferation marker Ki67 have been recommended but these did not show better performance in terms of concordance or prognostic stratification. The advent of whole slide image technology has brought the issue of mitotic counting in BC into the light again with more challenges to develop objective criteria for identifying and scoring mitotic figures in digitalised images. Using reliable and reproducible morphological criteria can provide the highest degree of concordance among pathologists and could even benefit the further application of artificial intelligence (AI) in breast pathology, and this relies mainly on the explicit description of these figures. In this review, we highlight the morphology of mitotic figures and their mimickers, address the current caveats in counting mitoses in breast pathology and describe how to strictly apply the morphological criteria for accurate and reliable histological grade and AI models.




Ibrahim, A., Lashen, A., Toss, M., Mihai, R., & Rakha, E. (2022, June 1). Assessment of mitotic activity in breast cancer: revisited in the digital pathology era. Journal of Clinical Pathology. BMJ Publishing Group.

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