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J Cancer Res Ther. 2018;14(7):1620-1626. doi: 10.4103/jcrt.JCRT_905_17.

Folate-receptor-positive circulating tumor cells as an efficacious biomarker for the diagnosis of small pulmonary nodules.

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Department of Thoracic Surgery, Sichuan Academy of Medical Sciences and Sichuan Provincial People's Hospital, Chengdu, Sichuan, China.



The objective of this study is to investigate the clinical significance of folate-receptor-positive circulating tumor cells (FR+CTC) for the diagnosis of lung cancer, especially in early-stage patients.

Materials and Methods:

A total of 72 lung cancer patients, including 31 with stage I diseases and two with stage 0 diseases, were enrolled in this study. Twenty-four patients with benign lung diseases and two healthy volunteers served as the control group. Three milliliters of peripheral blood were collected from each participant for FR+CTC analysis on enrollment. FR+CTC enumeration was performed using immunomagnetic leukocyte depletion and ligand-targeted polymerase chain reaction techniques.


The study results revealed that using a cutoff value of 8.7 CTC Units/3 mL, the sensitivity, and specificity of FR+CTC for diagnosis of lung cancer were 81.94% and 73.08%, respectively. Such high sensitivity (74.19%) and specificity (73.08%) persisted even if only stage I lung cancer patients were retained in the analysis. In receiver operating characteristic analysis, the performance of FR+CTC (area under the curve = 0.8153) was superior to other clinical biomarkers such as carcinoembryonic antigen, neuron-specific enolase, and cytokeratin 19 fragments. In a subgroup analysis, patients with nodule size of >3 cm showed an improved sensitivity (88.46%); although, the specificity appeared to decrease (40%). All five patients with benign diseases in this subgroup had inflammatory diseases, indicating that large inflammatory nodules may also release FR -expressing cells into the circulatory system.


FR+CTC is a reliable biomarker for the early diagnosis of small-sized lung cancer. Further study with larger sample size is required to assess the diagnostic efficiency of FR+CTC in patients with large nodule sizes.


Biomarkers; circulating tumor cells; diagnosis; folate receptor; lung cancer

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