Metastatic relapse in patients with solid tumors is caused by systemic preoperative or perioperative dissemination of tumor cells. The presence of individual tumor cells in bone marrow and in peripheral blood can be detected by immunologic or molecular methods and is being regarded increasingly as a clinically relevant prognostic factor. Because the goal of adjuvant therapy is the eradication of occult micrometastatic tumor cells before metastatic disease becomes clinically evident, the early detection of micrometastases could identify the patients who are most (and least) likely to benefit from adjuvant therapy. In addition, more sensitive methods for detecting such cells should increase knowledge about the biologic mechanisms of metastasis and improve the diagnosis and treatment of micrometastatic disease. In contrast to solid metastatic tumors, micrometastatic tumor cells are appropriate targets for intravenously applied agents because macromolecules and immunocompetent effector cells should have access to the tumor cells. Because the majority of micrometastatic tumor cells may be nonproliferative (G0 phase), standard cytotoxic chemotherapies aimed at proliferating cells may be less effective, which might explain, in part, the failure of chemotherapy. Thus, adjuvant therapies that are aimed at dividing and quiescent cells, such as antibody-based therapies, are of considerable interest. From a literature search that used the databases MEDLINE®, CANCERLIT®, Biosis®, Embase®, and SciSearch®, we discuss the current state of research on minimal residual cancer in patients with epithelial tumors and the diagnostic and clinical implications of these findings.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research