Although peripheral blood stem cell collections (PBSC) are thought to have less tumor involvement than bone marrow (BM), the incidence of circulating tumor cells in patients with breast cancer has not been widely investigated. We prospectively investigated the incidence and viability of tumor cell involvement in PBSC and BM collections from breast cancer patients undergoing high-dose chemotherapy/hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Paired samples of PBSC and BM from 48 patients were analyzed using an immunocytochemical technique that detects one epithelial-derived tumor cell per 5 x 10(5) mononuclear cells. Immunostained tumor cells were detected in 9.8% (13/133) PBSC specimens from 9/48 (18.7%) patients and in 62.3% (38/61) BM specimens from 32/48 (66.7%) patients, a significantly higher rate than in PBSC (P < .005). The geometric mean concentration of tumor cells in contaminated PBSC specimens was 0.8/10(5) mononuclear cells (range 0.33 to 2.0/10(5)) compared with 22.9/10(5) mononuclear cells in BM (range 1 to 3,000/10(5), P < .0001). In culture experiments, clonogenic tumor colonies grew in 21/26 immunocytochemically positive specimens. No tumor colony growth was detected in 30/32 immunocytochemically negative specimens. Immunocytochemical detection of tumor involvement in BM and PBSC correlated significantly with in vitro clonogenic growth (P < .0001). We conclude that PBSC contain fewer tumor cells than paired BM specimens from patients with advanced breast cancer and that these tumor cells appear to be capable of clonogenic growth in vitro.
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