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Br J Cancer. 1999 Dec; 81(7): 1165–1173.
PMCID: PMC2374326

Detection of circulating tumour cells in patients with breast or ovarian cancer by molecular cytogenetics


Detection of micrometastases in patients with solid tumours may aid the establishment of prognosis and development of new therapeutic approaches. This study was designed to investigate the presence and frequency of tumour cells in the peripheral blood (PB) of patients with breast or ovarian cancer by using a combination of magnetic activated cell sorting (MACS) and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Separated tumour cell and PB-samples from 48 patients (35 breast cancers, 12 ovarian tumours, one uterine sarcoma) were analysed for the presence of numerical aberrations of chromosomes 7, 12, 17 and 17 q11.2–q12. Twenty-five patients had primary disease and 23 had relapsed. The technique allows the detection of one tumour cell in 106 normal cells. Circulating tumour cells were detected in 35/48 cases (17 patients had relapsed and 13 primary carcinoma with lymph node or solid metastases) by the expression of anti-cytokeratin and the presence of numerical chromosomal abnormalities. PB-tumour cells of patients with a primary carcinoma and without solid metastases had a significantly lower percentage of chromosomal aberrations, especially for chromosome 12 (P = 0.035; P = 0.038) compared to those with relapsed disease and solid metastases. Detection and quantification of minimal residual disease may monitor the response to cytotoxic or hormonal therapy and may identify women at risk of relapse. © 1999 Cancer Research Campaign

Keywords: circulating tumour cells, MACS, FISH

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