Longitudinal Analysis of Circulating Tumor Cells in Colorectal Cancer Patients by a Cytological and Molecular Approach : Feasibility and Clinical Application


Liquid biopsies allowing for individualized risk stratification of cancer patients have become of high significance in individualized cancer diagnostics and treatment. The detection of circulating tumor cells (CTC) has proven to be highly relevant in risk prediction, e.g., in colorectal cancer (CRC) patients. In this study, we investigate the clinical relevance of longitudinal CTC detection over a course of follow-up after surgical resection of the tumor and correlate these findings with clinico-pathological characteristics.


In total, 49 patients with histologically proven colorectal carcinoma were recruited for this prospective study. Blood samples were analyzed for CTC presence by two methods: first by marker-dependent immunofluorescence staining combined with automated microscopy with the NYONE® cell imager and additionally, indirectly, by semi-quantitative Cytokeratin-20 (CK20) RT-qPCR. CTC quantification data were compared and correlated with the clinico-pathological parameters.


Detection of CTC over a post-operative time course was feasible with both applied methods. In patients who were pre-operatively negative for CTCs with the NYONE® method or below the cut-off for relative CK20 mRNA expression after analysis by PCR, a statistically significant rise in the immediate post-operative CTC detection could be demonstrated. Further, in the cohort analyzed by PCR, we detected a lower CTC load in patients who were adjuvantly treated with chemotherapy compared to patients in the follow-up subgroup. This finding was contrary to the same patient subset analyzed with the NYONE® for CTC detection.


Our study investigates the occurrence of CTC in CRC patients after surgical resection of the primary tumor and during postoperative follow-up. The resection of the tumor has an impact on the CTC quantity and the longitudinal CTC analysis supports the significance of CTC as a prognostic biomarker. Future investigations with an even more extended follow-up period and larger patient cohorts will have to validate our results and may help to define an optimal longitudinal sampling scheme for liquid biopsies in the post-operative monitoring of cancer patients to enable tailored therapy concepts for precision medicine.


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