Evaluation of cell-free tumour DNA and RNA in patients with breast cancer and benign breast disease†
High levels of DNA and RNA released by apoptotic and necrotic cells circulate in the blood of cancer patients. In the present study we determined the applicability of the quantification of nucleic acids and their genetic alterations as minimally invasive tool for breast cancer screening. The relative concentrations of DNA and RNA were determined in preoperative serum of 102 breast cancer patients, 32 patients with benign breast disease and 53 healthy women. The mean follow-up time of the cancer patients was 6.2 years. Loss of heterozygosity (LOH) at four polymorphic markers (D13S159, D13S280, D13S282 at region 13q31-33 and D10S1765 at PTEN region 10q23.31) was analyzed by PCR-based fluorescence microsatellite analyses using cell-free DNA. The serum levels of DNA (p = 0.016) and RNA (p = 0.001) could differentiate between healthy women and cancer patients, but could not discriminate malignant from benign breast lesions. A significant correlation of serum DNA with RNA levels was observed in all groups (p = 0.018). Increased serum DNA levels (but not RNA levels) in cancer patients were associated with a poorer overall (p = 0.021) and disease-free survival (p = 0.025). The occurrence of LOH at all markers significantly correlated with lymph node status (p = 0.026). In addition, the LOH frequency at D13S280 (p = 0.047) and D13S159 (p = 0.046) associated with overall and disease-free survival, respectively. In conclusion, the quantification of cell-free tumour DNA had diagnostic and prognostic values in breast cancer patients, and DNA loss at the region 13q31-33 may be an indication of lymphatic tumour cell spread.