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World J Surg Oncol. 2005 Mar 31;3(1):18.

Increase in number of circulating disseminated epithelial cells after surgery for non-small cell lung cancer monitored by MAINTRAC(R) is a predictor for relapse: A preliminary report.

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TZB Transfusionsmedizinisches Zentrum Bayreuth, der Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Germany.



Lung cancer still remains one of the most commonly occurring solid tumors and even in stage Ia, surgery fails in 30% of patients who develop distant metastases. It is hypothesized that these must have developed from occult circulating tumor cells present at the time of surgery, or before. The aim of the present study was to detect such cells in the peripheral blood and to monitor these cells following surgery.


30 patients treated for lung cancer with surgery were monitored for circulating epithelial cells (CEC) by taking peripheral blood samples before, 2 weeks and 5 months after surgery and/or radiotherapy (RT) chemotherapy (CT) or combined RT/CT using magnetic bead enrichment and laser scanning cytometry (MAINTRAC(R)) for quantification of these cells.


In 86% of the patients CEC were detected before surgery and in 100% at 2 weeks and 5 months after surgery. In the control group, which consisted of 100 normal donors without cancer, 97 % were negative for CEC. A significantly higher number of CEC was found preoperatively in patients with squamous cell carcinoma than in those with adenocarcinoma. In correlation to the extent of parenchymal manipulation 2 weeks after surgery, an increase in numbers of CEC was observed with limited resections (18/21) whereas pneumonectomy led to a decrease (5/8) of CEC, 2 weeks after surgery. The third analysis done 5 months after surgery identified 3 groups of patients. In the group of 5 patients who received neo- or adjuvant chemo/radiotherapy there was evidence that monitoring of CEC can evaluate the effects of therapy. Another group of 7 patients who underwent surgery only showed a decrease of CEC and no signs of relapse. A third group of 11 patients who had surgery only, showed an increase of CEC (4 with an initial decrease after surgery and 7 with continuous increase). In the group with a continuous increase during the following 24 months, 2 early relapses in patients with stage Ia adenocarcinoma were observed. The increase of CEC preceded clinical detection by six months.


We consider, therefore, that patients with adenocarcinoma and a continuous increase of CEC after complete resection for lung cancer are at an increased risk of early relapse.

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