Clinical relevance of minimal residual cancer in patients with solid malignancies

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 1999;18(1):91-100. doi: 10.1023/a:1006264420822.


With the advent of new therapeutic modalities, the treatment options for oncologists can vary greatly depending upon the aggressiveness of the patient's cancer. Patients may receive no therapy, adjuvant therapy, aggressive adjuvant therapy (taxane based), monoclonal antibody therapy (e.g. Herceptin) or bone marrow transplantation. It is now mandatory to determine accurate prognostic patient profiles at diagnosis and during therapy to determine who would benefit most from a particular therapeutic regimen or to determine who should be shifted into more aggressive therapy. We now have ultra-sensitive methods of tumor cell detection that can determine the presence of minimal residual cancer (MRC) in marrow, stem cell product (SCP) and lymph node to help create these prognostic profiles. The author has conducted a critical review of the literature regarding the type of testing used to detect MRC, the incidence of MRC in marrow, SCP, and lymph node, and the clinical significance of MRC at diagnosis and during therapy. To date it is now clear that immunohistochemistry is a very useful diagnostic tool with adequate sensitivity to detect MRC. The presence of MRC at diagnosis in marrow and/or lymph node is associated with a poor prognosis for a number of disorders including breast cancer, neuroblastoma, gastrointestinal tumors, and lung cancer. In addition, the presence of MRC during therapy in marrow and/or SCP is associated with a very poor prognosis for patients with breast cancer. The use of testing for MRC in the patient provides prognostic information that may be of use to the oncologist.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Neoplasm, Residual / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasm, Residual / pathology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Stem Cells / pathology