Breast Cancer Ploidy and Cell Proliferation

Finding out more information about the DNA in the breast cancer cells can help predict how fast the cancer cells are dividing and growing.

What is ploidy and what does it mean?

The ploidy of cancer cells refers to the amount of DNA they contain.

  • If there's a normal amount of DNA in the cells, they are said to be diploid. These cancers tend to grow and spread more slowly.
  • If the amount of DNA is abnormal, then the cells are called aneuploid. These cancers tend to be more aggressive. (They tend to grow and spread faster.)

Tests of ploidy may help figure out long-term outcomes, but they rarely change treatment and are considered optional. They are not usually recommended as part of a routine breast cancer work-up.

What is cell proliferation?

Cell proliferation is how quickly a cancer cell copies its DNA and divides into 2 cells. If the cancer cells are dividing more rapidly, it means the cancer is faster growing or more aggressive.

The rate of cancer cell proliferation can be estimated by doing a Ki-67 test . In some cases, Ki-67 testing to measure cell proliferation may be used to help plan treatment or estimate treatment outcomes. But test results can vary depending on things like the lab doing the testing, the testing method, and what part of the tumor is tested. 

Another way to determine cell division is the S-phase fraction, which is the percentage of cells in a sample that are copying their DNA as it gets ready to divide into 2 new cells.

If the S-phase fraction or Ki-67 labeling index is high, it means that the cancer cells are dividing more rapidly.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Duffy MJ, Harbeck N, Nap M, Molina R, Nicolini A, Senkus E, Cardoso F. Clinical use of biomarkers in breast cancer: Updated guidelines from the European Group on Tumor Markers (EGTM). Eur J Cancer. 2017;75:284-298.

Jagsi R, King TA, Lehman C, Morrow M, Harris JR, Burstein HJ. Chapter 79: Malignant Tumors of the Breast. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019.

Last Medical Review: September 20, 2019 Last Revised: September 20, 2019

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