Breast cancer's ability to silently spread to various parts of the body via the bloodstream has frustrated physicians for decades. Several studies in the past few years, however, have detected stray tumor cells in the bone marrow of breast cancer patients after surgery. This suggests that these cells, which were carried there by the blood, might herald a relapse elsewhere.
Scientists in Germany now have evidence that patients carrying such aberrant cells are indeed more likely to die from cancer or have cancer appear in nonbreast tissue than are patients without the cells.
The discovery may eventually open a new avenue that physicians can follow to determine a patient's risk of cancer recurrence, says study coauthor Wolfgang Janni, a gynecological oncologist at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. Such information could also help clarify what kind of treatment a person needs when first diagnosed with the disease, he says.