Blood test could lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer

June 5, 2012

Scientists have discovered that a simple blood test could lead to better diagnosis and treatment for early-stage breast cancer patients, according to an Article published Online First in The Lancet Oncology.

The study, led by Professor Anthony Lucci from the Department of Surgical Oncology, University of Texas, USA, builds on earlier work which identified circulating in the blood of patients suffering from spreading (metastatic) breast cancer. Tumours are generally thought of as spreading through the rather than the , so this earlier research represented a significant departure from the usual means of and characterisation.

Professor Lucci and colleagues investigated whether circulating tumour cells (CTCs) could be found in the blood of patients at an earlier stage of disease, where the cancer has not spread beyond its original location (non-metastatic). They also looked at how the presence of CTCs affected and progression of the disease.

Looking at 302 patients with operable breast cancer, the researchers identified CTCs in the blood of 24% of the study group. They found that the presence of CTCs accurately predicted both progression-free survival and overall survival, with 15% of the patients who tested positive for CTCs relapsing, and 10% dying during the study period (February 2005 to December 2010), as compared to just 3% and 2%, respectively, of patients who did not test positive for CTCs. For patients with a higher concentration of CTCs (three or more per 7.5ml of blood), the correlation with survival and progression rates was even more dramatic, with 31% of these patients dying or relapsing during the study period.

The findings raise hope that in future, blood tests could be used to provide improved diagnosis and treatment for early-stage . Currently, diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer often relies on lymph-node removal, which can have unpleasant side-effects. CTC analysis does not appear in current guidelines for the assessment of cancer patients.

"These studies identified that both progression-free and overall survival were worse in patients with one or more circulating tumour cells… the growing body of published work, including our study, suggests that assessment of circulating tumour cells might provide important prognostic information in these patients", according to Professor Lucci.

"If the presence of circulating tumour cells were to contribute independently to the currently available prognostic factors, this information might be useful in disease staging and in identifying patients who might benefit from additional adjuvant therapies."

The research remains at an early stage and further work will be needed before CTCs can be used to guide clinical decision making. In particular, the study included only patients who did not receive preoperative chemotherapy. Since the effects of chemotherapy on CTC concentration are poorly understood, further research into this will be an important factor in developing CTC analysis into a useful diagnostic tool for early-stage .

In a linked Comment, Professor Justin Stebbing of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College, London, UK, welcomes the findings, although he reiterates the authors' point that more research will be needed before CTCs can be used in a clinical setting: "Larger clinical studies are needed to further clarify the role of CTCs…at present we are in a difficult situation where we have a reliable prognostic biomarker but restricted guidance on how this information should be used, and therefore, until the completion of further studies, we do not envisage being treated differently on the basis of these data".

Explore further: Circulating tumor cells not linked to survival in newly diagnosed inflammatory breast cancer

More information: www.thelancet.com/journals/lan … 1470-2045(12)70209-7

Related Stories

Circulating tumor cells not linked to survival in newly diagnosed inflammatory breast cancer

December 9, 2011
The presence of circulating tumor cells in the blood appears to have no relationship to survival in women who have just been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, according to new research from Fox Chase Cancer Center. ...

Cancer cells in blood predict chances of survival and can help target breast cancer treatment

March 22, 2012
Detecting the presence of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in the blood of women with early breast cancer after surgery but before the start of chemotherapy can provide useful information about their chances of surviving the ...

Blood test confirmed to be 'powerful predictor' for metastatic breast cancer following largest analysis to date

May 18, 2011
Researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center say the number of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood is a "powerful predictor" to help physicians more reliably assess treatment benefit for patients ...

Strong evidence supports prognostic value of circulating tumor cells in breast cancer

May 5, 2011
French researchers have reported the strongest proof yet that evidence of 'circulating tumor cells' found in samples of a patient's blood is strongly linked to poor outcomes such as a short time to disease progression.

Recommended for you

MRI contrast agent locates and distinguishes aggressive from slow-growing breast cancer

September 25, 2017
A new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agent being tested by researchers at Case Western Reserve University not only pinpoints breast cancers at early stages but differentiates between aggressive and slow-growing ...

Alternative splicing, an important mechanism for cancer

September 22, 2017
Cancer, which is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, arises from the disruption of essential mechanisms of the normal cell life cycle, such as replication control, DNA repair and cell death. Thanks to the advances ...

'Labyrinth' chip could help monitor aggressive cancer stem cells

September 21, 2017
Inspired by the Labyrinth of Greek mythology, a new chip etched with fluid channels sends blood samples through a hydrodynamic maze to separate out rare circulating cancer cells into a relatively clean stream for analysis. ...

Whole food diet may help prevent colon cancer, other chronic conditions

September 21, 2017
A diet that includes plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits may contain compounds that can stop colon cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases in pigs, according to an international team of researchers. Understanding how ...

Drug combination may improve impact of immunotherapy in head and neck cancer

September 21, 2017
Checkpoint inhibitor-based immunotherapy has been shown to be very effective in recurrent and metastatic head and neck cancer but only in a minority of patients. University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers ...

New kinase detection method helps identify targets for developing cancer drugs

September 21, 2017
Purdue University researchers have developed a high-throughput method for matching kinases to the proteins they phosphorylate, speeding the ability to identify multiple potential cancer drug targets.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.