Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from metastatic breast cancer patients linked to decreased immune function and response to treatment

Exp Mol Pathol. 2013 Oct;95(2):174-9. doi: 10.1016/j.yexmp.2013.06.013. Epub 2013 Jul 4.


We aimed to examine the use of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) as an effective measure of treatment efficacy and immune system function in metastatic breast cancer patients. CTCs are believed to be indicators of residual disease and thus pose an increased risk of metastasis and poorer outcomes to those patients who are CTC-positive. We obtained peripheral blood samples from 45 patients previously diagnosed with metastatic disease originating in the breast. Using TLR agonists that bind TLR ligands and upregulate immune effects versus unstimulated cells, we calculated a percent specific lysis using chromium-51 assay to illustrate the functional abilities of patient natural killer (NK) cells. We found those with greater than 5 CTCs per 7.5 mL blood had significantly decreased responses by their immune cells when compared with those patients who had 5 CTCs or less. We furthermore found a correlation between disease progression and CTC-positive patients, indicating that those who have a positive test should be closely monitored by their clinician. CTCs represent an exciting new clinical opportunity that will ideally utilize their low invasiveness and quick turnaround time to best benefit clinical scenarios.

Keywords: Circulating tumor cell; Metastatic breast cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / immunology*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers, Tumor