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Clin Cancer Res. 2014 Jan 15;20(2):425-33. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-13-1101. Epub 2013 Nov 11.

Prognostic relevance of circulating tumor cells in blood and disseminated tumor cells in bone marrow of patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity.

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Authors' Affiliations: Departments of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Medical Biometry and Epidemiology, and Tumor Biology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany.



Current staging methods for squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) of the oral cavity (OSCC) need to be improved to predict the risk of individual patients. Because hematogenous tumor cell dissemination is a key event in tumor progression, we assessed the prognostic significance of disseminated tumor cells (DTC) in bone marrow and circulating tumor cells (CTC) in peripheral blood from patients with OSCC.


From 110 patients with OSCC, tumors were surgically resected (R0) without neoadjuvant therapy. The CellSearch system was used to enumerate CTCs. Bone marrow was aspirated from the iliac crest, and mononuclear cells (MNC) were enriched by Ficoll density gradient centrifugation. To detect DTCs, MNCs were immunostained with the pan-keratin antibody A45-B/B3. Results were correlated with clinicopathologic parameters and clinical outcome such as recurrence and death during follow-up time (mean 916 days).


Ten of 80 patients (12.5%) harbored CTCs in peripheral blood, whereas in 18 of 90 patients (20.0%) DTCs in bone marrow could be detected. Surprisingly, in only 2 patients (1.8%) CTCs and DTCs were detected simultaneously. Significant correlations could be found for CTCs and tumor size (P = 0.04), nodal status and DTCs (P = 0.02), and distant metastasis with CTCs (P = 0.004) and DTCs (P = 0.005). Univariate and multivariate analyses revealed that CTCs and DTCs were significant and independent predictors of recurrence-free survival (P < 0.001).


Both DTCs and CTCs are independent prognostic markers in patients with OSCC, predicting relapse with higher sensitivity at various disease stages than routine staging procedures. Bone marrow might be an interesting target organ for future therapeutic interventions.

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