Circulating tumor cells in HER-2 positive metastatic breast cancer patients treated with trastuzumab and chemotherapy

Raquel A. Nunes, Xiaochun Li, Soonmo Peter Kang, Harold Burstein, Lisa Roberts, Walter Carney, Kimberly Blackwell, Paula Ryan, Virginia Borges, J. Dirk Iglehart, Paula Friedman, Lyndsay N. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The detection of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in peripheral blood may have important prognostic and predictive implications in breast cancer treatment. A limitation in this field has been the lack of a validated method of accurately measuring CTCs. While sensitivity has improved using RT-PCR, specificity remains a major challenge. The goal of this paper is to present a sensitive and specific methodology of detecting CTCs in women with HER-2-positive metastatic breast cancer, and to examine its role as a marker that tracks disease response during treatment with trastuzumab-containing regimens. The study included patients with HER-2-positive metastatic breast cancer enrolled on two different clinical protocols using a trastuzumab-containing regimen. Serial CTCs were measured at planned time points and clinical correlations were made. Immunomagnetic selection of circulating epithelial cells was used to address the specificity of tumor cell detection using cytokeratin 19 (CK19). In addition, the extracellular domain of the HER-2 protein (HER-2/ECD) was measured to determine if CTCs detected by CK19 accurately reflect tumor burden. The presence of CTCs at first restaging was associated with disease progression. We observed an association between CK19 and HER-2/ECD. The association of HER-2/ECD with clinical response followed a similar pattern to that seen with CK19. Finally, the absence of HER-2/ECD at best overall response and a change of HER-2/ECD from positive at baseline to negative at best overall response was associated with favorable treatment response. Our study supports the prognostic and predictive role of the detection of CTCs in treatment of HER-2-positive metastatic breast cancer patients. The association between CK19 and markers of disease burden is in line with the concept that CTCs may be a reliable measure of tumor cells in the peripheral blood of patients with metastatic breast cancer. The association of CTCs at first restaging with treatment failure indicates that CTCs may have a role as surrogate markers to monitor treatment response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Biological Markers
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Circulating tumor cells
  • Cytokeratin 19
  • HER-2/ECD
  • Metastatic breast cancer
  • Trastuzumab

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cancer Research

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