USC researchers have developed a way to detect the microscopic spread of breast cancer. The new experimental method, described in the October Journal of Clinical Oncology, could help predict which patients are most likely to need chemotherapy to prevent cancer recurrence after breast-tumor removal.
The technique uses monoclonal antibodies--a special form of laboratory-produced antibodies--to identify breast cancer cells in bone marrow, a frequent site for the spread of cancer cells. The cancer cells can be detected with the monoclonal antibodies long before they can be found by other means.
Pathologist Richard Cote and his colleagues at USC studied 49 patients with operable breast cancer. They found that 33% of those who had cancer cells in their bone marrow at the time of the surgery had a recurrence of cancer within two years, compared to only 3% of those who did not.