ESMO logoA direct correlation, between the numbers of circulating tumor cells that patients, have in their blood with the length of their survival has apparently been reported by a study. The study claims that incase of metastatic breast cancer, the observed direct correlation can help improve the delivery of personalized therapy to these patients.

The cancer cells found, in a patient’s bloodstream, which are termed as circulating tumor cells, seem to be discovered in 50 to 80 percent patients, with metastatic breast cancer. Doctors are aware, since 2004 that, patients with 5 or more of these cells in 7.5 ml of blood, survive on average for less time than those with fewer than 5 cells. To better understand and analyze this study, Dr Antonio Giordano from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, USA, and colleagues employed, a sophisticated computer model known as an artificial neural network.

Dr Giordano stated, “We chose to use an artificial neural network model to analyze 516 consecutive metastatic breast cancer patients at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center because, unlike more typical statistical methods, it can estimate the complex interactions between different factors over time. Our model, designed at the University of Naples Federico II, simply represents a dynamic time-related analysis of survival, taking into account all prognostic factor correlations.”

Relationship between increasing numbers of circulating tumor cells and survival for different subgroups of breast cancer was examined by the authors, by an artificial neural network. They then seemed to observe, a linear relationship between the number of circulating tumor cells and the risk of death in patients with metastatic breast cancer. But most importantly, it was noted that, the risk of death after 1 year for patients with 40 circulating tumor cells in 7.5 ml of blood, was about twice that for patients with none.

Dr Giordano remarked, “These results show that the simple cutoff number of 5 circulating tumor cells probably does not adequately represent the complexity of this prognostic variable. Artificial neural networks are sophisticated techniques for analyzing survival of patients according to continuous variables over time.”

These results apparently suggest that, keeping a controlled check of circulating tumor cell numbers should now be considered, a standard test for patients with metastatic breast cancer. This will help the doctors, to determine when exactly to modify regimens or when to discontinue therapy.

The study was presented at the IMPAKT Breast Cancer Conference in Brussels, Belgium.