Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 123, Issue 3, pp 613–625 | Cite as

Relevance of circulating tumor cells, extracellular nucleic acids, and exosomes in breast cancer

  • Anne M. Friel
  • Claire Corcoran
  • John Crown
  • Lorraine O’Driscoll


Early detection of cancer is vital to improved overall survival rates. At present, evidence is accumulating for the clinical value of detecting occult tumor cells in peripheral blood, plasma, and serum specimens from cancer patients. Both molecular and cellular approaches, which differ in sensitivity and specificity, have been used for such means. Circulating tumor cells and extracellular nucleic acids have been detected within blood, plasma, and sera of cancer patients. As the presence of malignant tumors are clinically determined and/or confirmed upon biopsy procurement—which in itself may have detrimental effects in terms of stimulating cancer progression/metastases—minimally invasive methods would be highly advantageous to the diagnosis and prognosis of breast cancer and the subsequent tailoring of targeted treatments for individuals, if reliable panels of biomarkers suitable for such an approach exist. Herein, we review the current advances made in the detection of such circulating tumor cells and nucleic acids, with particular emphasis on extracellular nucleic acids, specifically extracellular mRNAs and discuss their clinical relevance.


Breast cancer Extracellular nucleic acids Circulating tumor cells Exosomes Cancer stem cells 



The authors wish to thank the Science Foundation Ireland, Strategic Research Cluster award to Molecular Therapeutics for Cancer Ireland (award 08/SRC/B1410) for funding associated with preparation of this review.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne M. Friel
    • 1
  • Claire Corcoran
    • 1
  • John Crown
    • 2
  • Lorraine O’Driscoll
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences & Molecular Therapeutics for Cancer IrelandTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland
  2. 2.Molecular Therapeutics for Cancer IrelandDublin City UniversityDublin 9Ireland

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