Circulating tumor cells (CTC) are associated with defects in adaptive immunity in patients with inflammatory breast cancer

M. Mego, H. Gao, E. N. Cohen, S. Anfossi, A. Giordano, T. Sanda, T. M. Fouad, U. De Giorgi, M. Giuliano, W. A. Woodward, R. H. Alvarez, V. Valero, N. T. Ueno, G. N. Hortobagyi, M. Cristofanilli, J. M. Reuben*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Background: Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) play a crucial role in tumor dissemination and are prognostic in primary and metastatic breast cancer. Peripheral blood (PB) immune cells contribute to an unfavorable microenvironment for CTC survival. This study aimed to correlate CTCs with the PB T-cell immunophenotypes and functions of patients with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Methods: This study included 65 IBC patients treated at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. PB was obtained from patients prior to starting a new line of chemotherapy for CTCs enumeration by CellSearch®, and T cell phenotype and function by flow cytometry; the results were correlated with CTCs and clinical outcome. Results: At least 1 CTC (≥1) or ≥5 CTCs was detected in 61.5% or 32.3% of patients, respectively. CTC count did not correlate with total lymphocytes; however, patients with ≥1 CTC or ≥5 CTCs had lower percentages (%) of CD3+ and CD4+ T cells compared with patients with no CTCs or <5 CTCs, respectively. Patients with ≥1 CTC had a lower percentage of T-cell receptor (TCR)-activated CD8+ T cells synthesizing TNF-α and IFN-γ and a higher percentage of T-regulatory lymphocytes compared to patients without CTCs. In multivariate analysis, tumor grade and % CD3+ T-cells were associated with ≥1 CTC, whereas ≥5 CTC was associated with tumor grade, stage, % CD3+ and % CD4+ T cells, and % TCR-activated CD8 T-cells synthesizing IL-17. Conclusions: IBC patients with CTCs in PB had abnormalities in adaptive immunity that could potentially impact tumor cell dissemination and initiation of the metastatic cascade.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1095-1104
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cancer
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jun 3 2016


  • Adaptive immunity
  • Circulating tumors cells
  • Inflammatory breast cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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