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Stray Breast Tumor Cells in Early Chemo Could Be Bad Sign
Date:12/12/2010

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) -- High levels of breast cancer tumor cells circulating in the blood during the first round of chemotherapy are a sign that the patient may not do well in the long run.

This was true even after other markers of survival were taken into account, French researchers reported Friday at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas.

The information from the study is not entirely new, said Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong, an assistant professor of medicine and surgery at Duke University and Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, N.C. "It's already known that circulating tumor cells are prognostic," Armstrong said. "The more you have, the worse you do."

But this study is the largest-to-date to look at the issue, the authors said. The study also measured other tumor markers, finding that circulating tumor cells (CTCs) predicted outcome even after taking these other markers into account.

Circulating tumor cells "are cancer cells that are broken off from the main tumor and are finding their way to other parts of body," Armstrong explained. "You can order this test as a clinician because it's a proven prognostic test."

The study presented at the Texas symposium involved 267 people whose cancer had spread to other parts of their body and who were receiving chemotherapy for the first time. Many were also receiving other treatments. They were followed for 16 months.

Researchers detected one or more CTCs in two-thirds of them and five or more in 44 percent.

And, consistent with other reports, the more CTCs someone had, the worse that person did.

Even so, the authors stated, it's not yet clear if measuring CTC levels actually has an effect on the course of the breast cancer. Research presented at medical meetings has not been reviewed by outside experts, unlike studies that are published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

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