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Clin Cancer Res. 2011 May 1;17(9):2967-76. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-10-2515. Epub 2011 Mar 17.

Persistence of disseminated tumor cells in the bone marrow of breast cancer patients predicts increased risk for relapse--a European pooled analysis.

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  • 1Frauenklinik der Heinrich-Heine-Universitat, Düsseldorf, Germany.



The prognostic significance of disseminated tumor cells (DTC) in bone marrow (BM) of breast cancer patients at the time of primary diagnosis has been confirmed by a large pooled analysis. In view of the lack of early indicators for secondary adjuvant treatment, we here evaluated whether the persistence of DTCs after adjuvant therapy increases the risk of subsequent relapse and death.


Individual patient data from 676 women with primary diagnosis of early breast cancer stages I-III from 3 follow-up studies were pooled. During clinical follow-up, patients underwent BM aspiration (BMA) to determine the presence of DTC. Tumor cells were detected by the standardized immunoassays. Univariate and multivariable proportional hazards models were estimated to assess the prognostic significance of DTC for disease-free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS).


Patients were followed for a median of 89 months. BMA was performed at median 37 months after diagnosis of breast cancer. At follow-up BMA, 15.5% of patients had DTCs. The presence of DTC was an independent indicator of poor prognosis for DFS, distant DFS (DDFS), cancer-specific survival, and OS during the first 5 years following cancer diagnosis (log-rank test P < 0.001 values for all investigated endpoints).


Among breast cancer patients, persistent DTCs during follow-up significantly predicted the increased risk for subsequent relapse and death. Analysis of DTC might serve as a clinically useful monitoring tool and should be tested as an indicator for secondary adjuvant treatment intervention within clinical trials.

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