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1.  Disseminated tumor cells as selection marker and monitoring tool for secondary adjuvant treatment in early breast cancer. Descriptive results from an intervention study 
BMC Cancer  2012;12:616.
Presence of disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) in bone marrow (BM) after completion of systemic adjuvant treatment predicts reduced survival in breast cancer. The present study explores the use of DTCs to identify adjuvant insufficiently treated patients to be offered secondary adjuvant treatment intervention, and as a surrogate marker for therapy response.
A total of 1121 patients with pN1-3 or pT1c/T2G2-3pN0-status were enrolled. All had completed primary surgery and received 6 cycles of anthracycline-containing chemotherapy. BM-aspiration was performed 8-12 weeks after chemotherapy (BM1), followed by a second BM-aspiration 6 months later (BM2). DTC-status was determined by morphological evaluation of immunocytochemically detected cytokeratin-positive cells. If DTCs were present at BM2, docetaxel (100 mg/m2, 3qw, 6 courses) was administered, followed by DTC-analysis 1 month (BM3) and 13 months (BM4) after the last docetaxel infusion.
Clinical follow-up (FU) is still ongoing. Here, the descriptive data from the study are presented. Of 1085 patients with a reported DTC result at both BM1 and BM2, 94 patients (8.7%) were BM1 positive and 83 (7.6%) were BM2 positive. The concordance between BM1 and BM2 was 86.5%. Both at BM1 and BM2 DTC-status was significantly associated with lobular carcinomas (p = 0.02 and p = 0.03, respectively; chi-square). In addition, DTC-status at BM2 was also associated with pN-status (p = 0.009) and pT-status (p = 0.03). At BM1 28.8% and 12.8% of the DTC-positive patients had ≥2 DTCs and ≥3 DTCs, respectively. At BM2, the corresponding frequencies were 47.0% and 25.3%. Of 72 docetaxel-treated patients analyzed at BM3 and/or BM4, only 15 (20.8%) had persistent DTCs. Of 17 patients with ≥3 DTCs before docetaxel treatment, 12 patients turned negative after treatment (70.6%). The change to DTC-negativity was associated with the presence of ductal carcinoma (p = 0.009).
After docetaxel treatment, the majority of patients experienced disappearance of DTCs. As this is not a randomized trial, the results can be due to effects of adjuvant (docetaxel/endocrine/trastuzumab) treatment and/or limitations of the methodology. The clinical significance of these results awaits mature FU data, but indicates a possibility for clinical use of DTC-status as a residual disease-monitoring tool and as a surrogate marker of treatment response.
Trial registration
Clin Trials Gov NCT00248703
PMCID: PMC3576235  PMID: 23259667
2.  Persistence of disseminated tumor cells after neoadjuvant treatment for locally advanced breast cancer predicts poor survival 
Breast Cancer Research : BCR  2012;14(4):R117.
Presence of disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) in bone marrow (BM) and circulating tumor cells (CTC) in peripheral blood (PB) predicts reduced survival in early breast cancer. The aim of this study was to determine the presence of and alterations in DTC- and CTC-status in locally advanced breast cancer patients undergoing neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NACT) and to evaluate their prognostic impact.
Bone marrow and peripheral blood were collected before NACT (BM1: n = 231/PB1: n = 219), at surgery (BM2: n = 69/PB2: n = 71), and after 12 months from start of NACT (BM3: n = 162/PB3: n = 141). Patients were included from 1997 to 2003 and followed until 2009 (or ten years follow-up). DTC- and CTC-status were determined by morphological evaluation of immunocytochemically detected cytokeratin-positive cells. The prognostic significance of DTCs/CTCs was assessed by univariate and multivariate Cox-regression analyses.
Before NACT, DTCs and CTCs were detected in 21.2% and 4.9% of the patients, respectively. At surgery, 15.9% and 1.4% had DTC- and CTC-presence, compared to 26.5% and 4.3% at 12 months from start of NACT. Of patients for whom DTC results both before NACT and at 12 months were available, concordant results were observed in 68%, and 14 out of 65 had positive DTC-status at both time points. Presence of ≥ 1 DTC 12 months from start of NACT, but not at other time points, predicted reduced disease-free survival (DFS; HR 2.3, p = 0.003), breast cancer-specific survival (BCSS; HR 3.0, p < 0.001) and overall survival (OS; HR 2.8, p < 0.001). Before NACT, presence of ≥ 3 DTCs was also associated with unfavorable outcome, and reduced BCSS was observed for CTC-positive patients (HR 2.2, p = 0.046). In multivariate analysis, DTC status (
Presence of DTCs after NACT indicated high risk for relapse and death, irrespective of the DTC-status before treatment. The results supports the potential use of DTC analysis as a monitoring tool during follow up, for selection of patients to secondary treatment intervention within clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3680942  PMID: 22889108
Mutations affecting p53 or its upstream activator Chk2 are associated with resistance to DNA-damaging chemotherapy in breast cancer. ATM (Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated protein) is the key activator of p53 and Chk2 in response to genotoxic stress. Here, we sought to evaluate ATM's potential role in resistance to chemotherapy.
We sequenced ATM and assessed gene expression levels in pre-treatment biopsies from 71 locally advanced breast cancers treated in the neoadjuvant setting with doxorubicin monotherapy or mitomycin combined with 5-fluorouracil. Findings were confirmed in a separate patient cohort treated with epirubicin monotherapy. Each tumor was previously analyzed for CHEK2 and TP53 mutation status.
While ATM mutations were not associated with chemo-resistance, low ATM expression levels predicted chemo-resistance among patients with tumors wild-type for TP53 and CHEK2 (P = 0.028). Analyzing the ATM-chk2-p53 cascade, low ATM levels (defined as the lower 5 to 50% percentiles) or mutations inactivating TP53 or CHEK2 robustly predicted anthracycline resistance (P-values varying between 0.001 and 0.027 depending on the percentile used to define "low" ATM levels). These results were confirmed in an independent cohort of 109 patients treated with epirubicin monotherapy. In contrast, ATM-levels were not suppressed in resistant tumors harboring TP53 or CHEK2 mutations (P > 0.5).
Our data indicate loss of function of the ATM-Chk2-p53 cascade to be strongly associated with resistance to anthracycline/mitomycin-containing chemotherapy in breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3446381  PMID: 22420423
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e19249.
TP53 mutations have been associated with resistance to anthracyclines but not to taxanes in breast cancer patients. The MDM2 promoter single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) T309G increases MDM2 activity and may reduce wild-type p53 protein activity. Here, we explored the predictive and prognostic value of TP53 and CHEK2 mutation status together with MDM2 SNP309 genotype in stage III breast cancer patients receiving paclitaxel or epirubicin monotherapy.
Experimental Design
Each patient was randomly assigned to treatment with epirubicin 90 mg/m2 (n = 109) or paclitaxel 200 mg/m2 (n = 114) every 3rd week as monotherapy for 4–6 cycles. Patients obtaining a suboptimal response on first-line treatment requiring further chemotherapy received the opposite regimen. Time from last patient inclusion to follow-up censoring was 69 months. Each patient had snap-frozen tumor tissue specimens collected prior to commencing chemotherapy.
Principal Findings
While TP53 and CHEK2 mutations predicted resistance to epirubicin, MDM2 status did not. Neither TP53/CHEK2 mutations nor MDM2 status was associated with paclitaxel response. Remarkably, TP53 mutations (p = 0.007) but also MDM2 309TG/GG genotype status (p = 0.012) were associated with a poor disease-specific survival among patients having paclitaxel but not patients having epirubicin first-line. The effect of MDM2 status was observed among individuals harbouring wild-type TP53 (p = 0.039) but not among individuals with TP53 mutated tumors (p>0.5).
TP53 and CHEK2 mutations were associated with lack of response to epirubicin monotherapy. In contrast, TP53 mutations and MDM2 309G allele status conferred poor disease-specific survival among patients treated with primary paclitaxel but not epirubicin monotherapy.
PMCID: PMC3083424  PMID: 21556366
PLoS ONE  2008;3(8):e3062.
Chemoresistance is the main obstacle to cure in most malignant diseases. Anthracyclines are among the main drugs used for breast cancer therapy and in many other malignant conditions. Single parameter analysis or global gene expression profiles have failed to identify mechanisms causing in vivo resistance to anthracyclines. While we previously found TP53 mutations in the L2/L3 domains to be associated with drug resistance, some tumors harboring wild-type TP53 were also therapy resistant. The aim of this study was; 1) To explore alterations in the TP53 gene with respect to resistance to a regular dose epirubicin regimen (90 mg/m2 every 3 week) in patients with primary, locally advanced breast cancer; 2) Identify critical mechanisms activating p53 in response to DNA damage in breast cancer; 3) Evaluate in vitro function of Chk2 and p14 proteins corresponding to identified mutations in the CHEK2 and p14(ARF) genes; and 4) Explore potential CHEK2 or p14(ARF) germline mutations with respect to family cancer incidence.
Methods and Findings
Snap-frozen biopsies from 109 patients collected prior to epirubicin (as preoperative therapy were investigated for TP53, CHEK2 and p14(ARF) mutations by sequencing the coding region and p14(ARF) promoter methylations. TP53 mutastions were associated with chemoresistance, defined as progressive disease on therapy (p = 0.0358; p = 0.0136 for mutations affecting p53 loop domains L2/L3). Germline CHEK2 mutations (n = 3) were associated with therapy resistance (p = 0.0226). Combined, mutations affecting either CHEK2 or TP53 strongly predicted therapy resistance (p = 0.0101; TP53 mutations restricted to the L2/L3 domains: p = 0.0032). Two patients progressing on therapy harbored the CHEK2 mutation, Arg95Ter, completely abrogating Chk2 protein dimerization and kinase activity. One patient (Epi132) revealed family cancer occurrence resembling families harboring CHEK2 mutations in general, the other patient (epi203) was non-conclusive. No mutation or promoter hypermethylation in p14(ARF) were detected.
This study is the first reporting an association between CHEK2 mutations and therapy resistance in human cancers and to document mutations in two genes acting direct up/down-stream to each other to cause therapy failure, emphasizing the need to investigate functional cascades in future studies.
PMCID: PMC2518116  PMID: 18725978
Communication training builds on the assumption that understanding of the concepts related to professional communication facilitates the training. We know little about whether students' knowledge of clinical communication skills is affected by their attendance of communication training courses, or to what degree other elements of the clinical training or curriculum design also play a role. The aim of this study was to determine which elements of the curriculum influence acquisition of knowledge regarding clinical communication skills by medical students.
The study design was a cross-sectional survey performed in the four Norwegian medical schools with different curricula, spring 2003. A self-administered questionnaire regarding knowledge of communication skills (an abridged version of van Dalen's paper-and-pencil test) was sent to all students attending the four medical schools. A total of 1801 (59%) students responded with complete questionnaires.
At the end of the 1st year of study, the score on the knowledge test was higher in students at the two schools running communication courses and providing early patient contact (mean 81%) than in the other two medical schools (mean 69–75%, P ≤ 0.001), with students studying a traditional curriculum scoring the lowest. Their scores increased sharply towards the end of the 3rd year, during which they had been subjected to extensive patient contact and had participated in an intensive communication course (77% vs. 72% the previous year, P ≤ 0.01). All students scored generally lower in academic years in which there was no communication training. However, at the end of the final year the difference between the schools was only 5% (81% vs. 86%, P ≤ 0.001).
The acquisition of knowledge regarding communication skills by medical students may be optimised when the training is given together with extensive supervised patient contact, especially if this teaching takes place in the initial years of the curriculum.
PMCID: PMC2089059  PMID: 17925041
The Communication Skills Attitudes Scale (CSAS) created by Rees, Sheard and Davies and published in 2002 has been a widely used instrument for measuring medical students' attitudes towards learning communication skills. Earlier studies have shown that the CSAS mainly tests two dimensions of attitudes towards communication; positive attitudes (PAS) and negative attitudes (NAS). The objectives of our study are to explore the attitudes of Norwegian medical students towards learning communication skills, and to compare our findings with reports from other countries.
The CSAS questionnaire was mailed simultaneously to all students (n = 3055) of the four medical schools in Norway in the spring of 2003. Response from 1833 students (60.0%) were analysed by use of SPSS ver.12.
A Principal component analysis yielded findings that differ in many respects from those of earlier papers. We found the CSAS to measure three factors. The first factor describes students' feelings about the way communication skills are taught, whereas the second factor describes more fundamental attitudes and values connected to the importance of having communication skills for doctors. The third factor explores whether students feel that good communication skills may help them respecting patients and colleagues.
Our findings indicate that in this sample the CSAS measures broader aspects of attitudes towards learning communication skills than the formerly described two-factor model with PAS and NAS. This may turn out to be helpful for monitoring the effect of different teaching strategies on students' attitudes during medical school.
PMCID: PMC1851955  PMID: 17394673

Results 1-7 (7)