Detection of circulating tumor cells and circulating tumor DNA before and after mammographic breast compression in a cohort of breast cancer patients scheduled for neoadjuvant treatment


It is not known if mammographic breast compression of a primary tumor causes shedding of tumor cells into the circulatory system. Little is known about how the detection of circulating biomarkers such as circulating tumor cells (CTCs) or circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) is affected by breast compression intervention.

CTCs and ctDNA were analyzed in blood samples collected before and after breast compression in 31 patients with primary breast cancer scheduled for neoadjuvant therapy. All patients had a central venous access to allow administration of intravenous neoadjuvant chemotherapy, which enabled blood collection from superior vena cava, draining the breasts, in addition to sampling from a peripheral vein.

CTC and ctDNA positivity was seen in 26% and 65% of the patients, respectively. There was a significant increase of ctDNA after breast compression in central blood (p = 0.01), not observed in peripheral testing. No increase related with breast compression was observed for CTC. ctDNA positivity was associated with older age (p = 0.05), and ctDNA increase after breast compression was associated with high Ki67 proliferating tumors (p = 0.04). CTCs were more abundant in central compared to peripheral blood samples (p = 0.04).

There was no significant release of CTCs after mammographic breast compression but more CTCs were present in central compared to peripheral blood. No significant difference between central and peripheral levels of ctDNA was observed. The small average increase in ctDNA after breast compression is unlikely to be clinically relevant. The results give support for mammography as a safe procedure from the point of view of CTC and ctDNA shedding to the blood circulation. The results may have implications for the standardization of sampling procedures for circulating tumor markers.

Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 2019. 177(2):447–445
Christian Brueffer
Christian Brueffer
Bioinformatician and Data Scientist

Freelance Bioinformatician and Data Scientist with interests including disease biology and diagnostics, particularly in cancer, and open source bioinformatics.