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biomarker, advanced breast cancer, circulating tumor cells, progression, outcome


The role of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) as a marker for disease progression in metastatic cancer is controversial. The current review will serve to summarize the evidence on CTCs as a marker of disease progression in patients with metastatic breast cancer. The immunohistochemistry (IHC)-based CellSearch® is the only FDA-approved isolation technique for quantifying CTCs in patients with metastatic breast cancer. We searched PubMed and Web of Knowledge for clinical studies that assessed the prognostic and predictive value of CTCs using IHC-based isolation.

The patient outcomes reported include median and Cox-proportional hazard ratios for overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS). All studies reported shorter OS for CTC-positive patients versus CTC-negative. A subset of the selected trials reported significant lower median PFS for CTC-positive patients. The reported trials support the utility of CTC enumeration for patient prognosis. But further studies are required to determine the utility of CTC enumeration for guiding patient therapy. There are three clinical trials ongoing to test this hypothesis. These studies, and others, will further establish the role of CTCs in clinical practice.

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