The fate and prognostic value of occult metastatic cells in the bone marrow of patients with breast carcinoma between primary treatment and recurrence

Cancer. 2001 Jul 1;92(1):46-53. doi: 10.1002/1097-0142(20010701)92:1<46::aid-cncr1290>;2-6.


Background: The current study examines the fate of occult metastatic cells detected in bone marrow (BM) at primary diagnosis and evaluates whether persistently positive findings support the prognostic influence of these cells in patients with Stage I--III (International Union Against Cancer) breast carcinoma.

Methods: The authors analyzed BM aspirates, at the time of primary diagnosis and after a median interval of 19 months (range, 7--67 months), from 89 patients who were free of recurrence. The presence of cytokeratin (CK) positive cells was assessed with the monoclonal anti-CK antibody A45-B/B3. Patients were observed prospectively for a median of 41 (range, 12--78) months after the first aspiration.

Results: At the time of primary diagnosis, 24 of 89 patients (27%) presented with occult metastatic cells in the BM. Of the same 89 patients, 25 (28%) had a positive BM finding at the time of the second BM analysis. Among those patients with an initially negative BM finding, 15 patients (17%) had occult metastatic cells at time of the second BM aspiration, whereas 10 patients (11%) had a persistently positive BM finding. Patients with a persistently negative BM status (n = 50) had a significantly better overall survival than patients with a positive BM status at the time of the second BM aspiration (n = 25), both by univariate analysis (P = 0.045, log-rank) and multivariate analysis (P = 0.034, Cox regression).

Conclusions: In many patients with primary breast carcinoma, minimal residual disease can be detected by follow-up examination of the BM. This finding is prognostically relevant and provides reason to include BM monitoring in future clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bone Marrow Cells / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Prognosis
  • Recurrence
  • Survival Analysis
  • Time Factors