Circulating Tumor Cell Clusters Are Frequently Detected in Women with Early-Stage Breast Cancer

Abstract :

The clinical relevance of circulating tumor cell clusters (CTC-clusters) in breast cancer (BC) has been mostly studied using the CellSearch®, a marker-dependent method detecting only epithelial-enriched clusters. However, due to epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, resorting to marker-independent approaches can improve CTC-cluster detection. Blood samples collected from healthy donors and spiked-in with tumor mammospheres, or from BC patients, were processed for CTC-cluster detection with 3 technologies: CellSearch®, CellSieve™ filters, and ScreenCell® filters. In spiked-in samples, the 3 technologies showed similar recovery capability, whereas, in 19 clinical samples processed in parallel with CellSearch® and CellSieve™ filters, filtration allowed us to detect more CTC-clusters than CellSearch® (median number = 7 versus 1, p = 0.0038). Next, samples from 37 early BC (EBC) and 23 metastatic BC (MBC) patients were processed using ScreenCell® filters for attaining both unbiased enrichment and marker-independent identification (based on cytomorphological criteria). At baseline, CTC-clusters were detected in 70% of EBC cases and in 20% of MBC patients (median number = 2, range 0-20, versus 0, range 0-15, p = 0.0015). Marker-independent approaches for CTC-cluster assessment improve detection and show that CTC-clusters are more frequent in EBC than in MBC patients, a novel finding suggesting that dissemination of CTC-clusters is an early event in BC natural history.

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