Breast cancer (BC) is the most common neoplasm in women. Biopsy of metastatic lesions is recommended to confirm estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) status as there are discrepancies in these patterns between primary tumors and metastases in up to 40% of the cases. Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are related to BC outcomes and could potentially be an alternative to the invasive procedures of metastasis rebiopsy. ISET® technology is not currently employed to detect CTCs in patients with BC. Emerging data support that the characterization of CTC protein expression can refine its prognostic value. Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β plays a role in BC progression and invasiveness. Thus, in this study, we aimed to compare ER, PR, and HER2 expression in primary tumors, CTCs, and metastases and evaluate TGF-β type 1 receptor (TGF-β RI) expression in CTCs as prognostic factor for progression free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS).
This prospective study was conducted at the A.C. Camargo Cancer Center, Brazil. Blood samples were processed in ISET® (Isolation by SizE of Tumors, Rarecells, France) before computed tomography-guided biopsy of suspected metastatic lesions. Protein expression levels in CTCs were compared to those in primary tumors/metastases (medical records).
Of the 39 patients initially included, 27 underwent both biopsies of metastases and blood collection and were considered for analysis. The concordance rates for ER, PR, and HER2 expression between primary tumors and metastases were high. No loss of HER2 expression at any metastasis site and retention of the same pattern of protein expression in all triple-negative (TN) tumors (92.5%, 81.5% and 96.2% respectively) (p<0.0001) was observed. When metastases/CTCs were classified as TN/non-TN, CTCs showed high specificity (93%), accuracy (84.2%), and negative predictive value (88%). The median OS of patients without TGF-β RI expression in CTCs was 42.6 versus 20.8 months for TGF-β RI expression-positive ones (p>0.05).
The role of CTCs detected by ISET has not yet been established in BC. Here, we suggest that this methodology may be useful to evaluate metastasis in non-TN cases as well as TGF-β RI expression in CTCs, which may impact patient survival. Due to sample limitations, future studies must focus on specific BC subtypes and an expansion of the cohort.