Counting tumour cells should be the standard method of gauging the likelihood of a patient surviving breast cancer, a US doctor has said.
If doctors could predict the odds of a woman's survival, they would be able to make better decisions when changing or stopping any therapy, said Antonio Giordano from the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, Texas.
He led a team of scientists, which showed that the number of tumour cells in blood influences the rate of survival in women who have advanced breast cancer. A "neural network" programme electronically analysed 516 patients with metastatic, or spreading, breast cancer.
Dr Giordano said: "We found that there was a linear relationship between the number of circulating tumour cells and the risk of death in patients with metastatic breast cancer. Most importantly the risk of death after one year for patients with 40 circulating tumour cells in 7.5 millilitres of blood was about twice that for patients with none.
"While the treatment of this condition remains palliative, monitoring of circulating tumour cells can help determine when to modify regimens or discontinue therapy; in other words, this can improve the delivery of personalised therapy."
The research findings were discussed at an IMPAKT Breast Cancer Conference in Brussels.