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J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. 2008 Jan;134(1):59-65. Epub 2007 Jul 5.

An increase in cell number at completion of therapy may develop as an indicator of early relapse: quantification of circulating epithelial tumor cells (CETC) for monitoring of adjuvant therapy in breast cancer.

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  • 1Clinic for Internal Medicine II, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Jena, Germany.



Treatment efficiency of adjuvant therapy in breast cancer is only revealed after several years by statistical evaluation and gives no answer for the individual patient. We here present a method to analyze the response to adjuvant chemotherapy online in individual patients.


In 25 consecutive non-metastatic primary breast cancer patients adjuvant fluorouracil/epirubicin/cyclophosphamid (FEC) or EC followed by taxane (EC-T) or cyclophosphamid/methotrexate/fluorouracil (CMF) therapy were given. Circulating epithelial tumor cells (CETC) were quantified before and after each second cycle of the therapy regimen, between the anthracycline and the taxane block of the regimen and in some cases repeatedly during CMF treatment. Independent of the initial cell number CETC numbers showed a decline, no change or a minor increase in 15 patients of which 14 remained in complete remission and 1 suffered local relapse. Ten patients showed an increase at the end of therapy of which 4 have relapsed during the observation time of between 2 months and up to 54 months. This patient group was compared to a previously published group of 25 patients who have all reached a follow-up of 4.5 years or until relapse.


As in the previous report, Kaplan-Meier analysis revealed a high correlation between the response of CETC to therapy and relapse (p < 0.0001) and curves of both patient groups were super imposable. Multivariate analysis revealed the response of CETC to therapy to be an independent predictive marker for relapse.

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