Assessment of the role of circulating breast cancer cells in tumor formation and metastatic potential using in vivo flow cytometry

J Biomed Opt. 2011 Apr;16(4):040501. doi: 10.1117/1.3560624.


The identification of breast cancer patients who will ultimately progress to metastatic disease is of significant clinical importance. The quantification and assessment of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) has been proposed as one strategy to monitor treatment effectiveness and disease prognosis. However, CTCs have been an elusive population of cells to study because of their small number and difficulties associated with isolation protocols. In vivo flow cytometry (IVFC) can overcome these limitations and provide insights in the role these cells play during primary and metastatic tumor growth. In this study, we used two-color IVFC to examine, for up to ten weeks following orthotopic implantation, changes in the number of circulating human breast cells expressing GFP and a population of circulating hematopoietic cells with strong autofluorescence. We found that the number of detected CTCs in combination with the number of red autofluorescent cells (650 to 690 nm) during the first seven days following implantation was predictive in development of tumor formation and metastasis eight weeks later. These results suggest that the combined detection of these two cell populations could offer a novel approach in the monitoring and prognosis of breast cancer progression, which in turn could aid significantly in their effective treatment.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, SCID
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*