Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 160, Issue 3, pp 411–424 | Cite as

Circulating tumor cells in breast cancer: applications in personalized medicine

  • Jin Sun Lee
  • Mark Jesus M. Magbanua
  • John W. Park


Recent technological advancements in rare cell analysis have facilitated the detection of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood of patients diagnosed with breast and other types of cancers. Numerous clinical studies involving the enumeration of CTCs in breast cancer patients have unequivocally demonstrated the prognostic value of these cells. Evidence from recent molecular studies indicates that CTCs may be potential surrogate markers for systemic disease. As such, real-time assessment of therapeutic biomarkers in breast CTCs, such as the estrogen receptor (ER) and the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), may have a tremendous impact in guiding-targeted cancer therapy. In this review, we discuss the clinical implications of CTC detection and its potential utility for personalized medicine in breast cancer.


Breast cancer Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) Personalized medicine HER2 Estrogen receptor 



Circulating tumor cell


Estrogen receptor


Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2


Epithelial cell adhesion molecule








Immunomagnetic enrichment/flow cytometry


Metastatic breast cancer


Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction


Overall survival


Progression-free survival


Disease-free survival






Fluorescence in situ hybridization


Epidermal growth factor receptor



We thank Andrea T. Kablanian for critical review of the manuscript.


This effort was funded in part by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

JWP received honorarium and research funding (through the Regents of the University of California) from Veridex and Siemens Healthcare Diagnostic. JSL and MJMM declare that they have no conflict interest.

Research involving human participants and/or animals

For this type of study, formal consent is not required. This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jin Sun Lee
    • 1
  • Mark Jesus M. Magbanua
    • 1
  • John W. Park
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Hematology/Oncology, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer CenterUniversity of California San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA

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