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The detection of circulating breast cancer cells in blood
  1. A M Gilbey1,
  2. D Burnett1,
  3. R E Coleman2,
  4. I Holen3
  1. 1Micropathology Ltd, University of Warwick Science Park, Barclays Venture Centre, Sir William Lyons Road, Coventry CV4 7EZ, UK
  2. 2Cancer Research Centre, Weston Park Hospital, Sheffield S10 2SJ, UK
  3. 3University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2JF, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr A M Gilbey
 Micropathology Ltd, University of Warwick Science Park, Barclays Venture Centre, Sir William Lyons Road, Coventry, CV4 7EZ, UK;


At present, sampling of the lymph nodes or bone marrow for the detection of regions of metastatic disease in patients with breast cancer can only be undertaken at the time of initial diagnosis and surgery. However, the sampling of these tissues and the methods used are inaccurate, time consuming, and cannot be used for easy routine screening to determine disease recurrence and response to treatment. Because of the problems encountered with current methods and tissues sampled at the time of breast cancer diagnosis, this review discusses the urgent requirement for and potential development of a quick, simple, and accurate diagnostic test utilising the haematogenous system, a source of circulating tumour cells in patients with breast cancer, and highly sensitive molecular biological techniques, such as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. In addition, this review also highlights potential problems that may be encountered and should be avoided when devising such a test.

  • BM, bone marrow
  • CK, cytokeratin
  • FC, flow cytometry
  • GA733.2, gastrointestinal tumour associated antigen-733.2
  • HE, histochemical examination
  • IHC, immunohistochemistry
  • LN, lymph nodes
  • MUC1, membrane associated mucin 1
  • PCR, polymerase chain reaction
  • RT-PCR, reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction
  • β-NAcGAT, β-N-acetylgalactosaminyl transferase
  • breast cancer
  • circulating cells
  • bone marrow
  • lymph nodes
  • blood
  • diagnostic test

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