Clinical challenges in the molecular characterization of circulating tumour cells in breast cancer

Br J Cancer. 2013 Jun 25;108(12):2426-32. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2013.265. Epub 2013 Jun 11.


Blood testing for circulating tumour cells (CTC) has emerged as one of the hottest fields in cancer research. CTC detection and enumeration can serve as a 'liquid biopsy' and an early marker of response to systemic therapy, whereas their molecular characterisation has a strong potential to be translated to individualised targeted treatments and spare breast cancer (BC) patients unnecessary and ineffective therapies. Different analytical systems for CTC detection and isolation have been developed and new areas of research are directed towards developing novel assays for CTC molecular characterisation. Molecular characterisation of single CTC holds considerable promise for predictive biomarker assessment and to explore CTC heterogeneity. The application of extremely powerful next-generation sequencing technologies in the area of CTC molecular characterisation in combination with reliable single CTC isolation opens new frontiers for the management of patients in the near future. This review is mainly focused on the clinical potential of the molecular characterisation of CTC in BC.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / isolation & purification*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Biopsy
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Carcinoma / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma / genetics*
  • Carcinoma / metabolism
  • Carcinoma / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / pathology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / chemistry
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*
  • Prognosis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor