Review Article

Clinical utility of circulating tumor cells in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer

Marianna Gallo, Antonella De Luca, Monica Rosaria Maiello, Amelia D’Alessio, Claudia Esposito, Nicoletta Chicchinelli, Laura Forgione, Maria Carmela Piccirillo, Gaetano Rocco, Alessandro Morabito, Gerardo Botti, Nicola Normanno


Several different studies have addressed the role of the circulating tumor cells (CTC) in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In particular, the potential of CTC analysis in the early diagnosis of NSCLC and in the prediction of the outcome of patients with early and advanced NSCLC have been explored. A major limit of these studies is that they used different techniques for CTC isolation and enumeration, they employed different thresholds to discriminate between high- and low-risk patients, and they enrolled heterogeneous and often small cohort of patients. Nevertheless, the results of many studies are concordant in indicating a correlation between high CTC count and poor prognosis in both early and advanced NSCLC. The reduction of CTC number following treatment might also represent an important indicator of sensitivity to therapy in patients with metastatic disease. Preliminary data also suggest the potential for CTC analysis in the early diagnosis of NSCLC in high-risk individuals. However, these findings need to be confirmed in large prospective trials in order to be transferred to the clinical practice. The molecular profiling of single CTC in NSCLC might provide important information on tumor biology and on the mechanisms involved in tumor dissemination and in acquired resistance to targeted therapies. In this respect, xenografts derived from CTC might represent a valuable tool to investigate these phenomena and to develop novel therapeutic strategies.