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Correlation of hormone receptor status between circulating tumor cells, primary tumor, and metastasis in breast cancer patients

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Estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR) status is prognostic and predictive in breast cancer. Because metastatic breast tumor biopsies are not routinely feasible, circulating tumor cells (CTCs) offer an alternative source of determining ER/PR tumor status.


Peripheral blood was collected prospectively from 36 patients with metastatic breast cancer. CTCs were isolated using the microfluidic OncoCEE™ platform. Detection was accomplished with an expanded anti-cytokeratin (CK) cocktail mixture and anti-CD45. ER/PR protein expression was assessed by immunocytochemistry (ICC) on the CK+ cells and compared to the primary and/or metastatic tumor by immunohistochemistry (IHC).


Among the 24 CK + CTC cases, a concordance of 68 % (15/22) in ER/PR status between primary breast tumor and CTCs and 83 % (10/12) between metastatic tumor and CTCs was observed. An overall concordance of 79 % (19/24) was achieved when assessing CTC and metastatic tumor (primary tumor substituted if metastatic breast biopsy not available). A test sensitivity of 72 % and specificity of 100 % was identified when comparing CTCs to tumor tissue. Of the 7 discordant cases between CTCs and primary tumor tissue, 2 were concordant with the metastatic biopsy.


CTC ER/PR status using the OncoCEE™ platform is feasible, with high concordance in ER/PR status between tumor tissue (IHC) and CTCs (ICC). The prognostic and predictive significance of CTC ER/PR protein expression needs further evaluation in larger trials.

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The authors wish to thank all of the employees at Biocept and the following laboratory personnel for the work and dedication to this project: Mark Tong, Maryam Zomorrodi, Lisa Strauser, Valeriya Prozorovska, Ronnie Spielvogel, Leticia Flores, Christine Mitchell, Margaret Jeffrey, Andrew Nguyen, Jana Salvacion, and Ferdinand Banez. In addition, the authors would also like to thank Drs. Dawn Hershman, MD, MS and Katherine Crew, MD, MS for their support and accrual of patients to this study. This publication was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, through Grant Number KL2 TR000081 and the Witten Breast Cancer Research Fund. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Conflict of interest

F. Z. Bischoff, J. A. Mayer, T. Pham, K. L. Wong, E. Villarin, and T. J. Pircher, are presently or were previously employees of Biocept Incorporated. None of the other contributors have any potential conflicts of interest.

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Correspondence to K. Kalinsky.

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Kalinsky, K., Mayer, J.A., Xu, X. et al. Correlation of hormone receptor status between circulating tumor cells, primary tumor, and metastasis in breast cancer patients. Clin Transl Oncol 17, 539–546 (2015).

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