[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 18-May-2011
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Contact: Karen Mallet
km463@georgetown.edu
215-514-9751
Georgetown University Medical Center

Blood test confirmed to be 'powerful predictor' following largest analysis to date

Testing for circulating tumor cells helps inform clinical decisions about treatments and expensive radiologic scans

Washington, DC – Researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center say the number of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood is a "powerful predictor" to help physicians more reliably assess treatment benefit for patients with metastatic breast cancer. The findings from a large analysis using pooled data from international cancer centers will be presented during a poster session on Monday, June 6th, at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

"The current standard of care for monitoring patients with metastatic breast cancer involves the use of radiology studies such as CT scans, ultrasounds, and the like to determine whether or not patients are deriving benefit from their current therapies." says Minetta Liu, M.D., lead investigator of the new analysis and director of translational breast cancer research at Georgetown Lombardi. "These tests can be expensive and invasive, and can negatively impact a patient's quality of life."

Liu says the new analysis substantiates the utility of the CTC test, which counts the number of CTCs in the blood. CTC results at or above the threshold of five are reliably associated with clinical and/or radiographic evidence of worsening disease, strengthening considerations for a change in therapy with the goal of improving long-term patient outcomes.

Enumerating CTCs can be done with various technologies. For this analysis, researchers culled data from peer-reviewed published studies, all of which, by chance, utilized the FDA-approved CellSearch™ technology. Teams from institutions around the world contributed blinded data to create a pooled dataset of 841 patients. This large sample size enabled Liu to confirm findings from other studies that indicate a CTC count of five or more is associated with disease progression. Importantly, the predictive value of CTCs was not affected by treatment type (chemotherapy, endocrine therapy, biologic therapy), tumor type (hormone receptor positive/negative, HER2 positive/negative), or sites of disease involvement.

"Using a blood test to count CTCs in addition to our existing tools for disease monitoring might improve our ability to appropriately treat patients and maximize their quality of life," explains Liu. "When a patient with metastatic breast cancer feels well and looks well, has had normal recent scans and CTC results that are consistently less than five, we feel more confident in her current treatment plan and may delay repeat imaging studies in favor of the less-invasive CTC blood test."

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The study was conducted with no external funding. Liu reports receiving compensation for research-related speaking engagements on behalf of Veridex and various other pharmaceutical companies.

About Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center

Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Lombardi is one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, and the only one in the Washington, DC, area. For more information, go to http://lombardi.georgetown.edu.

About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC's mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical Translation and Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. In fiscal year 2009-2010, GUMC accounted for nearly 80 percent of Georgetown University's extramural research funding.



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