The decision as to whether systemic adjuvant therapy should be applied in breast cancer patients for secondary prevention of metastatic relapse is based solely on the statistical prognosis. For this reason, the direct identification of minimal residual cancer in distant organs (e.g. bone marrow) is of particular importance. In breast cancer 25-43% of the patients exhibit micrometastatic disease in bone marrow, following resection of their primary tumours. Successful enrichment, reliable identification and molecular profiling of disseminated tumour cells at the single cell level are still key issues in ongoing and future studies. In addition, first attempts have been reported to evaluate the biology of disseminated tumour cells using in vitro and in vivo models. Taken together, the advancing characterization of disseminated tumour cells opens the avenue for the development of new therapeutic approaches aimed at preventing metastatic relapse. © 2001 Academic Press.
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