Background: In 100 consecutive patients with node-negative breast cancer who underwent curative surgery, we prospectively tested whether detection of circulating tumor cells in peripheral blood by means of reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction for carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) messenger RNA (mRNA) could predict patient outcomes.
Methods: We performed reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction in blood samples taken before surgery and in repeat samples taken 2 to 3 weeks after surgery. Univariate and multivariate analyses of relapse-free survival were performed.
Results: Patients with CEA mRNA in preoperative samples had poorer survival rates than those who had no detectable CEA mRNA. The worst survival rate was seen in those with CEA mRNA in both pre- and postoperative samples. Stepwise multivariate analysis selected CEA mRNA expression pattern (P=.001; relative risk=0.69) and histologic tumor grade (P=.002; relative risk=1.35) as independent prognostic factors for disease-free survival.
Conclusions: Molecular detection of CEA mRNA in both pre- and postoperative blood samples is an independent, negative prognostic factor in patients with node-negative breast cancer undergoing curative surgery.