After five years of endocrine therapy, patients with ER+ (estrogen receptor positive) breast cancer face the question of the benefit of further treatment. Ten years of endocrine therapy has been demonstrated to improve survival compared to five years. However, the individual benefit of continuation remains unclear. Therefore, markers for predicting benefit from endocrine treatment and extended endocrine treatment are desperately needed. In this study the dynamics over time of the tumor cells circulating in peripheral blood of patients, circulating tumor cells/ circulating epithelial tumor cells (CTC/CETC), as the systemic part of the tumor were investigated in 36 patients with ER+ primary breast cancer. CTC/CETCs were monitored serially during and after endocrine therapy. After termination of endocrine therapy 12 patients showed an increase in CTC/CETCs, with 8 of 12 suffering relapse. No change or a reduction was observed in 24 patients, with 2 of 24 suffering relapse. Initial tumor size was marginally prognostic (p
= 0.053) but not nodal status nor the mere number of CTC/CETCs. Only the trajectory of CTC/CETCs was a statistically significant predictor of relapse free survival (increasing cell numbers: mean = 940 days vs. stable/decreasing cell numbers mean not reached). Individual cases demonstrated that an increase of CTC/CETCs after discontinuation of tamoxifen therapy could be stopped by resuming the endocrine therapy.
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