Micrometastases in breast cancer: long-term follow-up of the first patient cohort

Eur J Cancer. 1991;27(3):236-9. doi: 10.1016/0277-5379(91)90504-7.


"Micrometastases" can be identified in the bone marrow of patients with apparently localised breast cancer using an immunocytochemical stain for epithelial membrane antigen (EMA). Of 39 women who had marrow samples examined at the time of initial presentation (37), or with locally recurrent disease (2), 13 (33%) had samples which contained small numbers of EMA positive cells. 10 out of 23 (44%) lymph-node positive patients were marrow positive, compared to 1 out of 14 (7%) lymph node negative cases (P = 0.03). Long-term follow-up (median 9.5 years) has shown that 11 out of 13 (85%) patients with micrometastases have developed metastatic disease compared to 8 out of 26 (31%) with negative bone marrow aspirates (P less than 0.05). The small number of EMA positive cells detected in bone marrow samples probably reflects the high metastatic potential of primary or recurrent cancers rather than established microscopic deposits; it is not yet clear whether the finding of such micrometastases will act as an independent variable compared to established prognostic factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / analysis
  • Bone Marrow / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / analysis
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucin-1
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Prognosis
  • Time Factors


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Mucin-1