Background: Metastatic spread is the most common cause of cancer-related death in colorectal cancer (CRC) patients, with the liver being the mostly affected organ. Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are a prognostic marker in stage IV CRC. We hypothesized that tumor burden in the liver correlates with CTC quantity. Methods: Blood (7.5 ml) was prospectively collected from 24 patients with novel stage IV CRC diagnosis. Baseline EpCAM+ CTCs were analyzed with the FDA-approved CellSearch® system. Clinicopathological data were collected, and hepatic tumor burden was determined by radiographic liver volumetry with contrast-enhanced CT scans. CRC primary tumors were immunohistochemically stained for EpCAM expression with BerEP4 monoclonal antibody. Statistical analyses were performed using 2-sample T-test, non-parametric Wilcoxon Rank-Sum test, and Fisher's exact test. Results: CTCs were detected n 17 (71%) of 24 patients. The overall mean CTC number as determined by EpCAM-based CellSearch® detection was 6.3 (SEM 2.9). High baseline CTC numbers (≥3) correlated significantly with a high tumor/liver ratio (≥30%), and with high serum CEA levels, as determined by two-sample T-test on log-transformed data and by Fisher's Exact test on categorical data analysis (P < 0.05). The CRC primary tumors were consistently expressing EpCAM by immunostaining. Conclusions: High tumor burden in the liver and high baseline serum CEA levels are associated with high number of baseline CTCs in stage IV CRC patients. Future studies should further investigate the biological role and expression patterns of single CTCs in cancer patients to further improve personalized treatment strategies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Medicine
- Cancer Research