, Volume 107, Issue 1, pp 133-138
Date: 15 Feb 2007

Circulating endothelial progenitor cells correlate to stage in patients with invasive breast cancer

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Tumor growth and metastasis is dependent on the formation and assembly of new blood vessels, a process known as neo-angiogenesis. Both pre-existing and circulating vascular cells have been shown to contribute to the assembly of tumor neo-vessels in specific tumors. Mobilization of endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) from the bone marrow constitutes a crucial step in the formation of de novo blood vessels, and levels of peripheral blood EPCs have been shown to be increased in certain malignant states. However, the role of circulating EPCs in breast cancer is largely unknown. We recruited twenty-five patients with biopsy-proven invasive breast cancer at Weill Cornell Breast Center to participate in a pilot study investigating the correlation of circulating EPCs to extent of disease and initiation of chemotherapy. For each patient, a baseline sample was drawn before systemic treatment, and for seventeen of those patients, a second sample was taken after the first round of chemotherapy. Levels of peripheral blood EPCs, as defined by co-expression of CD133 and VEGFR2, were quantified by flow cytometry. Breast cancer patients with stage III & IV disease had statistically higher levels of circulating EPCs than did patients with stage I & II disease (median = 165,000 EPCs/5 × 106MNCs vs. median = 6,920 EPCs/5 × 106MNCs, respectively, P < 0.0001). In addition, in late-stage patients, levels of EPCs demonstrated a statistically significant drop after initiation of chemotherapy (median = 162,500 EPCs/5 × 106MNCs [pre] vs. median = 117,500 EPCs/5 × 106MNCs [post], P = 0.01). These results suggest that circulating EPCs may serve as a potential tumor biomarker in breast cancer and that EPCs may represent a plausible target for future therapeutic intervention.