All it takes is a small vial of blood – rather than a biopsy – to determine how difficult a metastatic breast cancer will be to treat. The test involves counting the number of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in a small vial of blood. If there are more than 5 of these CTC cells in a 7.5 milliliter sample, the cancer is likely to require more aggressive therapy and is likely already resistant to standard treatments.
The findings from a European analysis of data from 17 treatment centers between January 2003 and July 2013 with 1,944 patients, was recently published online in the journal The Lancet Oncology. The inexpensive test can be helpful in tracking a patient’s cancer over the course of her treatment to catch the moment when drugs stop working and alternative treatment approaches need to be employed.
In an invited commentary also published in The Lancet Oncology, Jefferson oncologist Massimo Cristofanilli, MD, Director of the Jefferson Breast Care Center, wrote, “CTCs are an invaluable instrument for treating physicians who can now use a more rational approach to patients with metastatic breast cancer.”
The European study confirmed Dr. Cristofanilli’s original work a decade ago showing that CTCs could be useful in cancer diagnostics.
“This pooled analysis is the largest assessment of CTC enumeration in patients with metastatic breast cancer treated with standard therapies,” wrote Dr. Cristofanilli. “These results confirm that CTCs are a powerful instrument for the personalized management of metastatic breast cancer, have strong clinical value, and are without any major limitations or contraindications.”