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Cancer Med. 2013 Apr;2(2):226-33. doi: 10.1002/cam4.70. Epub 2013 Mar 6.

Discordance in HER2 gene amplification in circulating and disseminated tumor cells in patients with operable breast cancer.

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Department of Pathology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) gene amplification in circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) might be useful for modifying Herceptin therapy in breast cancer. In the process of investigating the utility of a microfluidic platform for detecting HER2 gene amplification in these cells, we observed novel results on discordance of HER2 status. Peripheral blood (8.5 mL) and bone marrow (BM) (7.5-10 mL) were collected prospectively from patients with clinical stages I-IV breast cancer. Mononuclear cells were recovered, stained with cytokeratin (CK), CD45, and DAPI, and processed through microfluidic channels for fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). A ratio of HER2:CEP17 >2 in any CK+/CD45 or CK-/CD45 cell was regarded as positive for HER2 gene amplification. Peripheral blood from 95 patients and BM from 78 patients were studied. We found CK+/CD45-/DAPI+ CTCs in 27.3% of patients. We evaluated HER2 gene amplification by FISH in 88 blood and 78 BM specimens and found HER2+ CTCs in 1 of 9 (11.1%) and HER2+ DTCs (27.2%) in 3 of 11 patients with HER2+ primary tumor. Among patients with a HER2- primary tumor, 5 of 79 had HER2+ CTCs (6.3%) and 14 of 67 had HER2+ DTCs (20.8%). The overall rate of discordance in HER2 status was 15% between primary tumor and CTCs and 28.2% between primary tumor and DTCs. HER2 was amplified in CTCs and DTCs in a portion of both HER2+ and HER2- primary tumors. HER2 discordance was more frequent for DTCs. The clinical implications of evaluating HER2 status in CTCs and DTCs in breast cancer needs to be established in prospective clinical trials. The cell enrichment and extraction microfluidic technology provides a sensitive platform for evaluation of HER2 gene amplification in CTCs and DTCs.


Breast cancer; HER2 status; circulating tumor cells; disseminated tumor cells; minimal residual disease

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