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Novel detection method unmasks circulating breast cancer cells
Date:12/11/2009

SAN ANTONIO - Circulating metastatic breast cancer cells can lose their epithelial receptors, a process that enables them to travel through the bloodstream undetected, according to research from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

The findings were presented today at the CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Levels of these circulating tumor cells (CTCs) - which are shed from a primary tumor or its metastases - have been used to monitor and tailor cancer therapy and to predict a patient's prognosis. CTCs that have undergone epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), however, evade current detection methods and lose their traditional prognostic and therapeutic value. Those cancer cells also become more resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Finding a reliable method to detect these stealth breast cancer cells may reveal additional therapeutic targets that could help eradicate micrometastatic disease in patients with breast cancer or other epithelial tumors.

EMT and the Invasion-Metastasis Cascade

EMT is a process in which cancer cells undergo transdifferentiation (transformation into a different type of cell). "The carcinoma cells activate a transdifferentiation program in order to acquire the ability to execute the multiple steps necessary for the invasion-metastasis cascade," said the study's first author Michal Mego, M.D., Ph.D., formerly a fellow at M. D. Anderson. "During EMT, epithelial cells acquire a mesenchymal appearance with increased motility and invasiveness."

The researchers hypothesized that these changes render the EMT-CTCs undetectable by current detection assays, such as CellSearch (Veridex). The cells' acquired resistance to chemotherapy and radiotherapy also suggested that EMT-CTCs are tumor-initiating cells and are responsible for tumor dissemination. Moreover, the researchers had found subgroups of high-risk patients with brain metastases, triple receptor-negati
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Contact: Laura Sussman
lsussman@mdanderson.org
713-745-2457
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Source:Eurekalert

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