Detection of tumor cells in the bone marrow, peripheral blood, and apheresis products of breast cancer patients using flow cytometry

S. J. Simpson*, M. Vachula, M. J. Kennedy, H. Kaizer, J. S. Coon, R. Ghalie, S. Williams, D. Van Epps

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


One of the possible drawbacks to autologous bone marrow (BM) and peripheral blood progenitor cell (PBPC) transplantation in breast cancer patients is the potential for tumor cell contamination in the transplanted product. To assess the presence of breast cancer cells, we have developed a flow-cytometric method using cytokeratin-FITC and CD45-phyco-erythrin (PE) to detect very low levels of cytokeratin-positive (CK+) tumor cells in mononuclear cell (MNC) preparations. In a model system using PBMNC and the breast cancer cell line CAMA, the sensitivity of detection of this flow-cytometric method was one tumor cell in 200,000 MNC. This method was used to evaluate BM, PB, and apheresis products (AP) from 44 patients with metastatic breast cancer. When possible, stained cytologic examination was performed on smears of the unprocessed specimens and on flow cytometry-sorted cells. Results indicated that CK+ tumor cells could be detected by flow cytometry in all three specimen types. When present, however, the tumor content (per MNC) tended to be higher in BM than in PB or AP. Samples from a given patient taken serially over the course of chemotherapy revealed variable results, suggesting that the presence of tumor contamination may be sporadic and requires evaluation of each stem cell product. Of 75 samples tested with both flow cytometry and cytology, the results were concordant in 54 cases (72%). In the remaining samples, flow cytometry only was positive in 15 cases (20%), and cytology only was positive in six cases (8%). This flow-cytometric technique is useful in the evaluation of transplant products for CK+ tumor cell contamination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1062-1068
Number of pages7
JournalExperimental Hematology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1995


  • Bone marrow transplantation
  • Breast cancer
  • Flow cytometry
  • Peripheral blood progenitor cells
  • Tumor contamination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Hematology
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research


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