Persistent evidence of circulating tumor cells detected by means of RT-PCR for CEA mRNA predicts early relapse: a prospective study in node-negative breast cancer

Surgery. 2004 Apr;135(4):419-26. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2003.08.014.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / immunology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / blood
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / genetics
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / blood
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Mastectomy / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / immunology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen
  • RNA, Messenger