Purpose: Disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) expressing epithelial markers in the bone marrow are associated with recurrence and death, but little is known about risk factors predicting their occurrence. We detected EPCAM+/CD45− cells in bone marrow from early stage breast cancer patients after neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) in the I-SPY 2 Trial and examined clinicopathologic factors and outcomes.
Methods: Patients who signed consent for SURMOUNT, a sub-study of the I-SPY 2 Trial (NCT01042379), had bone marrow collected after NAC at the time of surgery. EPCAM+CD45− cells in 4 mLs of bone marrow aspirate were enumerated using immunomagnetic enrichment/flow cytometry (IE/FC). Patients with > 4.16 EPCAM+CD45− cells per mL of bone marrow were classified as DTC-positive. Tumor response was assessed using the residual cancer burden (RCB), a standardized approach to quantitate the extent of residual invasive cancer present in the breast and the axillary lymph nodes after NAC. Association of DTC-positivity with clinicopathologic variables and survival was examined.
Results: A total of 73 patients were enrolled, 51 of whom had successful EPCAM+CD45− cell enumeration. Twenty-four of 51 (47.1%) were DTC-positive. The DTC-positivity rate was similar across receptor subtypes, but DTC-positive patients were significantly younger (p = 0.0239) and had larger pretreatment tumors compared to DTC-negative patients (p = 0.0319). Twenty of 51 (39.2%) achieved a pathologic complete response (pCR). While DTC-positivity was not associated with achieving pCR, it was significantly associated with higher RCB class (RCB-II/III, 62.5% vs. RCB-0/I; 33.3%; Chi-squared p = 0.0373). No significant correlation was observed between DTC-positivity and distant recurrence-free survival (p = 0.38, median follow-up = 3.2 years).
Conclusion: DTC-positivity at surgery after NAC was higher in younger patients, those with larger tumors, and those with residual disease at surgery.