Background: The presence in bone marrow of cells which react with monoclonal antibodies against tumor-associated antigens has been proposed over the last few years as a new prognostic factor in breast cancer patients.
Patients and methods: Bone marrow aspirates were obtained from 109 stage I and II breast cancer patients during or 2-4 weeks after primary surgery. The samples were processed for leukocyte separation on a Ficoll-Hypaque gradient and then used to prepare cytospin slides for immunocytochemical analysis. The slides were stained with a pool of monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs) which recognize tumor associated antigens, using the alkaline phosphatase anti-alkaline phosphatase method. The median follow-up was 36 months (range 15-62): 22 patients relapsed and 7 died.
Results: Thirty-four of the 109 patients (31.1%) had MoAb positive bone marrow cells. The bone marrow was positive in 28/74 (37.9%) patients who had the aspirate taken during surgery and in 6/35 (17.1%) who had it taken after surgery (p = 0.055). No association was found between bone marrow positivity and tumour size, nodal status, menopausal status, estrogen receptor positivity or the proliferative index. No association was found between bone marrow and prognosis: the log-rank test was 0.291 (p > 0.5) for OS and 0.023 for DFS; the hazard ratio (positive vs negative) was 1.51 for OS (95% CI: 0.33-6.86) and 0.93 for DFS (95% CI: 0.35-2.45).
Conclusions: In our series, bone marrow positivity did not correlate with prognostic parameters or prognosis. Of interest is the relative excess of positivity when the bone marrow was obtained during surgery.