Circulating Tumor Cells in Breast Cancer Patients Treated by Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy: A Meta-analysis

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2018 Jun 1;110(6):560-567. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djy018.


Background: We conducted a meta-analysis in nonmetastatic breast cancer patients treated by neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NCT) to assess the clinical validity of circulating tumor cell (CTC) detection as a prognostic marker.

Methods: We collected individual patient data from 21 studies in which CTC detection by CellSearch was performed in early breast cancer patients treated with NCT. The primary end point was overall survival, analyzed according to CTC detection, using Cox regression models stratified by study. Secondary end points included distant disease-free survival, locoregional relapse-free interval, and pathological complete response. All statistical tests were two-sided.

Results: Data from patients were collected before NCT (n = 1574) and before surgery (n = 1200). CTC detection revealed one or more CTCs in 25.2% of patients before NCT; this was associated with tumor size (P < .001). The number of CTCs detected had a detrimental and decremental impact on overall survival (P < .001), distant disease-free survival (P < .001), and locoregional relapse-free interval (P < .001), but not on pathological complete response. Patients with one, two, three to four, and five or more CTCs before NCT displayed hazard ratios of death of 1.09 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.65 to 1.69), 2.63 (95% CI = 1.42 to 4.54), 3.83 (95% CI = 2.08 to 6.66), and 6.25 (95% CI = 4.34 to 9.09), respectively. In 861 patients with full data available, adding CTC detection before NCT increased the prognostic ability of multivariable prognostic models for overall survival (P < .001), distant disease-free survival (P < .001), and locoregional relapse-free interval (P = .008).

Conclusions: CTC count is an independent and quantitative prognostic factor in early breast cancer patients treated by NCT. It complements current prognostic models based on tumor characteristics and response to therapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / blood
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / diagnosis
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / drug therapy
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor