Molecular detection of cytokeratin-19-positive cells in the peripheral blood of patients with operable breast cancer: evaluation of their prognostic significance

J Clin Oncol. 2002 Aug 15;20(16):3404-12. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2002.08.135.


Purpose: To evaluate the prognostic significance of molecular detection of cytokeratin 19 (CK-19) mRNA-positive cells by nested reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in the peripheral blood of women with stages I and II breast cancer before adjuvant chemotherapy.

Patients and methods: The sensitivity and specificity of CK-19 mRNA detection by nested RT-PCR were investigated using MCF-7 and ARH-77 cells and blood from healthy women and patients with hematologic malignancies, metastatic colorectal cancer, and early and metastatic breast cancer. Peripheral blood from 148 patients with operable breast cancer, obtained before initiation of any adjuvant therapy, was tested for the presence of CK-19 mRNA-positive cells.

Results: The nested RT-PCR assay for CK-19 mRNA detected one MCF-7 tumor cell in 10(6) normal peripheral blood mononuclear cells in four of five experiments; no signal was detected with the CK-19-negative ARH-77 cells. CK-19 mRNA was detected in the peripheral blood of 3.7% of healthy blood donors, 14.3% of patients with hematologic malignancies, and 3.2% of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. Detection rates for CK-19 mRNA-positive cells in the bone marrow/blood of patients with early or metastatic breast cancer were 63%/30% and 74%/52%, respectively. For stages I and II breast cancer, detection of CK-19-positive cells in the peripheral blood before adjuvant therapy was associated with reduced disease-free interval (P =.0007) and overall survival (P =.01). In multivariate analysis, detection of peripheral-blood CK-19-positive cells was an independent prognostic factor for disease relapse and death.

Conclusion: Molecular detection of CK-19 mRNA-positive cells by RT-PCR in the peripheral blood of patients with stages I and II breast cancer before initiation of adjuvant therapy has independent prognostic value as a marker of poor clinical outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Keratins / blood*
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Neoplasm / blood*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Survival Rate


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • RNA, Neoplasm
  • Keratins