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Tumor Cells in Blood Affect Breast Cancer Survival

In metastatic disease, more circulating cells means higher risk of death, study finds

FRIDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- The number of circulating tumor cells in the blood of metastatic breast cancer patients directly affects their survival, new research has found.

Circulating tumor cells are found in 50 percent to 80 percent of patients whose breast cancer has spread (metastatic breast cancer). It was already known that patients with five or more of these cells in 7.5 milliliters (mL) of blood have shorter average survival than those with fewer than five cells.

In this new study, researchers used an artificial neural network to analyze data from 516 metastatic breast cancer patients in order to learn more about the impact that increasing levels of circulating tumor cells have on survival.

"We found that there was a linear relationship between the number of circulating tumor cells and the risk of death in patients with metastatic breast cancer. Most importantly, the risk of death after one year for patients with 40 circulating tumor cells in 7.5 mL of blood was about twice that for patients with none," Dr. Antonio Giordano, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said in a news release from the European Society for Medical Oncology.

"These results show that the simple cutoff number of five circulating tumor cells probably does not adequately represent the complexity of this prognostic variable," he added.

The findings, scheduled to be presented this week at the IMPAKT Breast Cancer Conference in Brussels, Belgium, may help improve personalized treatment of patients with metastatic breast cancer.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about metastatic cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: European Society for Medical Oncology, news release, May 6, 2010

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