, Volume 31, Issue 3-4, pp 663-671
Date: 13 Jun 2012

Molecular characterization of circulating tumor cells in breast cancer: challenges and promises for individualized cancer treatment

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Abstract

Blood testing using Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs) has emerged as one of the hottest fields in cancer diagnosis. Research on CTCs present nowadays a challenge, as these cells are well defined targets for understanding tumour biology and improving cancer treatment. The presence of tumor cells in patient’s bone marrow or peripheral blood is an early indicator of metastasis and may signal tumor spread sooner than clinical symptoms appear and imaging results confirm a poor prognosis. CTC enumeration can serve as a “liquid biopsy” and an early marker to assess response to systemic therapy. Definition of biomarkers based on comprehensive characterization of CTCs has a strong potential to be translated to individualized targeted treatments and spare breast cancer patients unnecessary and ineffective therapies but also to reduce the costs for the health system and to downsize the extent and length of clinical studies. In this review, we briefly summarize recent studies on the molecular characterization of circulating tumor cells in breast cancer and discuss challenges and promises of CTCs for individualized cancer treatment.