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Clin Cancer Res. 2010 May 1;16(9):2634-45. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-09-2042. Epub 2010 Apr 20.

Detection and HER2 expression of circulating tumor cells: prospective monitoring in breast cancer patients treated in the neoadjuvant GeparQuattro trial.

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Institute of Tumor Biology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany.



This study was aimed at detecting and characterizing circulating tumor cells (CTC) before and after neoadjuvant therapy (NT) in the peripheral blood of patients with breast cancer.


The clinical trial GeparQuattro incorporated NT approaches (epirubicin/cyclophosphamide prior to randomization to docetaxel alone, docetaxel in combination with capecitabine, or docetaxel followed by capecitabine) and additional trastuzumab treatment for patients with HER2-positive tumors. We used the Food and Drug Administration-approved CellSearch system for CTC detection and evaluation of HER2 expression and developed HER2 immunoscoring for CTC.


We detected > or =1 CTC/7.5 mL in 46 of 213 patients (21.6%) before NT and in 22 of 207 patients (10.6%) after NT (P = 0.002). Twenty (15.0%) initially CTC-positive cases were CTC-negative after NT, whereas 11 (8.3%) cases were CTC-positive after NT, although no CTC could be found before NT. CTC detection did not correlate with primary tumor characteristics. Furthermore, there was no association between tumor response to NT and CTC detection. HER2-overexpressing CTC were observed in 14 of 58 CTC-positive patients (24.1%), including 8 patients with HER2-negative primary tumors and 3 patients after trastuzumab treatment. CTC scored HER2-negative or weakly HER2-positive before or after NT were present in 11 of 21 patients with HER2-positive primary tumors. HER2 overexpression on CTC was restricted to ductal carcinomas and associated with high tumor stage (P = 0.002).


CTC number was low in patients with primary breast cancer. The decrease in CTC incidence during treatment was not correlated with standard clinical characteristics and primary tumor response. Information on the HER2 status of CTC might be helpful for stratification and monitoring of HER2-directed therapies.

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