Purpose: The association between pathological complete response (pCR) in patients receiving neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) for breast cancer and Circulating Tumour Cells (CTCs) is not clear. The aim of this study was to assess whether CTC enumeration could be used to predict pathological response to NAC in breast cancer as measured by the Miller-Payne grading system.
Methods: Twenty-six patients were recruited, and blood samples were taken pre- and post-NAC. CTCs were isolated using the ScreenCell device and stained using a modified Giemsa stain. CTCs were enumerated by 2 pathologists and classified as single CTCs, doublets, clusters/microemboli and correlated with the pathological response as measured by the Miller-Payne grading system. χ2 or ANOVA was performed in SPSS 24.0 statistics software for associations.
Results: 89% of patients had invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and 11% invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC). At baseline 85% of patients had CTCs present, median 7 (0-161) CTCs per 3 ml of whole blood. Post-chemotherapy, 58% had an increase in CTCs. This did not correlate with the Miller-Payne grade of response. No significant association was identified between the number of CTCs and clinical characteristics; however, we did observe a correlation between pre-treatment CTC counts and body mass index, p < 0.05.
Conclusions: Patients with a complete response to NAC still had CTCs present, suggesting enumeration is not sufficient to aid surgery stratification. Additional characterisation and larger studies are needed to further characterise CTCs isolated pre- and post-chemotherapy. Long-term follow-up of these patients will determine the significance of CTCs in NAC breast cancer patients.