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BMC Cancer. 2008 Feb 20;8:55. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-8-55.

Detection of mammaglobin mRNA in peripheral blood is associated with high grade breast cancer: interim results of a prospective cohort study.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina, 171 Ashley Ave, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.



We sought to examine the detection rate of cancer cells in peripheral blood (PBL) and in bone marrow (BM) using an established 7-gene marker panel and evaluated whether there were any definable associations of any individual gene with traditional predictors of prognosis.


Patients with T1-T3 primary breast cancer were enrolled into a prospective, multi-institutional cohort study. In this interim analysis 215 PBL and 177 BM samples were analyzed by multimarker, real-time RT-PCR analysis designed to detect circulating and disseminated breast cancer cells.


At a threshold of three standard deviations from the mean expression level of normal controls, 63% (136/215) of PBL and 11% (19/177) of BM samples were positive for at least one cancer-associated marker. Marker positivity in PBL demonstrated a statistically significant association with grade II-III (vs. grade I; p = 0.0083). Overexpression of the mammaglobin (mam) gene alone had a statistically significant association with high tumor grade (p = 0.0315), and showed a trend towards ER-negative tumors and a high risk category. There was no association between marker positivity in PBL and the pathologic (H&E) and/or molecular (RT-PCR) status of the axillary lymph nodes (ALN).


This study suggests that molecular detection of circulating cancer cells in PBL detected by RT-PCR is associated with high tumor grade and specifically that overexpression of the mam gene in PBL may be a poor prognostic indicator. There was no statistically significant association between overexpression of cancer-associated genes in PBL and ALN status, supporting the concept of two potentially separate metastatic pathways.

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