Circulating tumour cells in non-metastatic breast cancer: a prospective study

Lancet Oncol. 2012 Jul;13(7):688-95. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(12)70209-7. Epub 2012 Jun 6.


Background: The identification of circulating tumour cells correlate with poor prognosis in metastatic breast cancer, but there are few data describing the importance of circulating tumour cells in patients with non-metastatic disease. Our aim was to establish if circulating tumour cells predicted worse outcome in patients with non-metastatic breast cancer.

Methods: We prospectively collected data on circulating tumour cells at the time of definitive surgery from chemonaive patients with stage 1-3 breast cancer from February, 2005, to December, 2010. We deemed eligible all patients with operable breast cancer presenting at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, TX, USA). Patients were ineligible if they had bilateral breast cancer or any other malignancy within 5 years of the diagnosis of the present cancer. We measured circulating tumour cells with the CellSearch System (Veridex, Raritan, NJ). We correlated findings of circulating tumour cells with standard tumour characteristics, including tumour size and grade; oestrogen and progesterone receptor and human epidural growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) status; and axillary lymph node status with χ(2) or Fisher exact tests. We assessed outcomes at a median follow-up of 35 months. Log-rank test and Cox regression analysis was applied to establish the association of circulating tumour cells with progression-free and overall survival.

Findings: No patients reported adverse events or complications from blood collections. We identified one or more circulating tumour cells in 73 (24%) of 302 patients. Detection of one or more circulating tumour cells predicted both decreased progression-free survival (log-rank p=0·005; hazard ratio [HR] 4·62, 95% CI 1·79-11·9) and overall survival (log-rank p=0·01; HR 4·04, 1·28-12·8).

Interpretation: The presence of one or more circulating tumour cells predicted early recurrence and decreased overall survival in chemonaive patients with non-metastatic breast cancer. These results suggest that assessment of circulating tumour cells might provide important prognostic information in these patients.

Funding: Society of Surgical Oncology, Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Program, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the State of Texas Rare and Aggressive Breast Cancer Research Program.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Genes, erbB-2
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies