Circulating tumor cells (CTC) are detected by the CellSearch System in 20% to 25% of patients with primary breast cancer (pBC). To improve CTC detection, we investigated melanoma cell adhesion molecule (MCAM) as enrichment marker next to epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) and tested the clinical relevance of MCAM-positive CTCs in patients with HER2-negative stage II/III pBC starting neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) in the NEOZOTAC trial. Using the CellSearch System, EpCAM-positive and MCAM-positive CTCs were separately enriched from 7.5 mL blood, at baseline and after the first NAC cycle. Circulating endothelial cells (CEC) were measured using flow cytometry. Primary objective was to improve the CTC detection rate to 40% combining EpCAM/MCAM. Correlations of CTC and CEC counts and pathologic complete response (pCR) were also explored. At baseline, we detected EpCAM-positive and MCAM-positive CTCs in 12 of 68 (18%) and 8 of 68 (12%) patients, respectively. After one cycle, this was 7 of 44 (16%) and 7 of 44 (16%) patients, respectively. The detection rate improved from 18% at baseline and 16% after one cycle with EpCAM to 25% (P = 0.08) and 30% (P = 0.02), respectively, with EpCAM/MCAM. No patients with MCAM-positive CTCs versus 23% of patients without MCAM-positive CTCs at baseline achieved pCR (P = 0.13). EpCAM-positive CTCs and CEC counts were not correlated to pCR. Combined EpCAM/MCAM CellSearch enrichment thus increased the CTC detection rate in stage II/III pBC. We found no associations of CTC and CEC counts with pCR to NAC. The clinical relevance of MCAM-positive CTCs deserves further study.

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Journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics
Onstenk, W, Kraan, J, Mostert, B, Timmermans, A.M, Charehbili, A, Smit, V.T.H.B.M, … Sleijfer, S. (2015). Improved circulating tumor cell detection by a combined EpCAM and MCAM cell search enrichment approach in patients with breast cancer undergoing neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, 14(3), 821–827. doi:10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-14-0653