Background: Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) prognosis is variable, depending on several clinical and biological factors. A better prediction of a patient's outcome could allow for a more accurate choice of treatments. The role of serum biomarkers in predicting outcome remains unclear in this setting. Tau, a microtubule-associated protein, is a neuronal marker that is also expressed in normal breast epithelial cells and cancer cells. Its tissue expression is associated with prognosis in MBC. However, the prognostic value of Tau serum levels in these patients is unknown. We aimed at evaluating the prognostic value of Tau (and other classical biomarkers) in MBC patients, and to assess its association with the presence of brain metastases (BM).
Methods: 244 MBC patients treated at our institution (2007-2015) were retrospectively selected. The usual MBC clinical and pathological variables were collected, altogether with CA15-3, CEA and HER2 extra-cellular domain (ECD) serum levels. Tau serum levels were measured with a novel immunoassay (digital ELISA) using Single Molecule Array (Simoa) technology. Overall survival (OS) was estimated with the Kaplan-Meier method. To investigate prognostic factors, a multivariate analysis was performed. Cut-offs were set using the Youden index method associated with receiver-operating characteristics (ROC) curves to evaluate the accuracy of biomarkers to identify patients with BM.
Results: With a median follow-up of 40.8 months, median OS was 15.5 months (95%CI 12.4-20.2). Elevated serum levels of Tau were independently associated with a poor outcome in the whole population as well as in patients with (n = 86) and without BM (n = 158). Median serum Tau levels tended to be higher in patients with BM (p = 0.23). In univariate analysis, patients with BM had an increased risk of serum Tau > 3.17 pg/mL (OR = 2.2, p = 0.049). In multivariate analysis, high values of Tau (OR = 3.98, p = 0.034) accurately identified patients with BM in our cohort.
Conclusions: Tau is a new biomarker of interest in MBC. Its serum level could represent an independent prognostic factor in these patients (both with and without BM). It also seems to be associated with the presence of BM. A validation of these results in an independent set of MBC patients is necessary to confirm these findings.
Keywords: Brain metastases; Breast cancer; Predictive factors; Prognostic factors; Tau protein; Tumor markers.