Tumor cell detection in peripheral blood and bone marrow

Curr Opin Oncol. 2006 Jan;18(1):48-56. doi: 10.1097/01.cco.0000198973.51615.fa.


Purpose of review: Whether the occurrence of tumor cells in peripheral blood or bone marrow from patients with solid tumors is predictive for disease recurrence or of any other prognostic relevance remains unknown. This article reviews recently published results focusing on the various methods used, their correlations with clinical or biological parameters and their potential prognostic value.

Recent findings: An increasing number of marker genes and different techniques, alone or in combinations, have been used for the detection of tumor cells in peripheral blood and bone marrow. Various results obtained are hardly comparable, most often due to the different methods in use. The frequency of circulating tumor cells in peripheral blood varied within a broad range and their clinical relevance appeared to be contradictory, at least in part. Disseminated tumor cells in bone marrow reached an independent prognostic value in breast cancer patients, but several investigations led to inconsistent correlations with clinical or prognostic criteria.

Summary: Still many questions remain unanswered; hence, the detection of tumor cells in peripheral blood or bone marrow cannot yet be taken into account for therapeutic decisions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Bone Marrow / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm, Residual / blood
  • Neoplasm, Residual / genetics
  • Neoplasm, Residual / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / blood
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Biomarkers, Tumor