Circulating tumor cells in breast cancer: applications in personalized medicine

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2016 Dec;160(3):411-424. doi: 10.1007/s10549-016-4014-6. Epub 2016 Oct 19.


Recent technological advancements in rare cell analysis have facilitated the detection of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood of patients diagnosed with breast and other types of cancers. Numerous clinical studies involving the enumeration of CTCs in breast cancer patients have unequivocally demonstrated the prognostic value of these cells. Evidence from recent molecular studies indicates that CTCs may be potential surrogate markers for systemic disease. As such, real-time assessment of therapeutic biomarkers in breast CTCs, such as the estrogen receptor (ER) and the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), may have a tremendous impact in guiding-targeted cancer therapy. In this review, we discuss the clinical implications of CTC detection and its potential utility for personalized medicine in breast cancer.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Circulating tumor cells (CTCs); Estrogen receptor; HER2; Personalized medicine.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Female
  • Genomics / methods
  • Humans
  • Liquid Biopsy / methods
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*
  • Precision Medicine / methods
  • Prognosis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor