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Clin Cancer Res. 1999 Dec;5(12):4158-63.

Increased detection of circulating tumor cells in the blood of colorectal carcinoma patients using two reverse transcription-PCR assays and multiple blood samples.

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Department of Gastrointestinal Surgery, Imperial College School of Medicine, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, United Kingdom.


The objectives of this study were to assess whether the use of two reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) cDNA assays and multiple blood sampling increased circulating tumor cell detection in colorectal cancer patients. Systemic blood was sampled three times at 1-min intervals in 100 colorectal cancer patients (50 primary tumors only and 50 liver metastases), and in 70 control patients without known cancer. After removal of the erythrocytes, samples were subjected to separate RT-PCR reactions using specific primers for carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and cytokeratin 20 (CK20). Statistical analysis was performed by the two-sample binomial test and the one-sided McNemar test. There were significant increases in circulating tumor cell positivity when CEA and CK20 assays were used together as compared with either CEA or CK20 assay used alone. There were also significant increases in circulating tumor cell positivity for either CEA or CK20 assay used alone when the results from two blood samples were compared with the results from one sample. Circulating colorectal cancer cell positivity rose from 48% (CEA) and 34% (CK20) with one assay of one sample to 74% when both assays of three samples were used to identify circulating tumor cells. Three non-cancer control patients (4.3%) were positive for either CEA (two patients) or CK20 (one patient). Tumor cells were identified more frequently in the circulation of colorectal cancer patients than had been suggested previously. RT-PCR-based studies of the clinical significance of circulating cancer cells in colorectal cancer should involve multiple blood samples with identification of multiple tumor-related cDNA products.

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