Review Article

Routine clinical use of circulating tumor cells for diagnosis of mutations and chromosomal rearrangements in non-small cell lung cancer—ready for prime-time?

Emma Pailler, Vincent Faugeroux, Marianne Oulhen, Cyril Catelain, Françoise Farace


In non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), diagnosis of predictive biomarkers for targeted therapies is currently done in small tumor biopsies. However, tumor biopsies can be invasive, in some cases associated with risk, and tissue adequacy, both in terms of quantity and quality is often insufficient. The development of efficient and non-invasive methods to identify genetic alterations is a key challenge which circulating tumor cells (CTCs) have the potential to be exploited for. CTCs are extremely rare and phenotypically diverse, two characteristics that impose technical challenges and impact the success of robust molecular analysis. Here we introduce the clinical needs in this disease that mainly consist of the diagnosis of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) activating alterations and anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) rearrangement. We present the proof-of-concept studies that explore the detection of these genetic alterations in CTCs from NSCLC patients. Finally, we discuss steps that are still required before CTCs are routinely used for diagnosis of EGFR-mutations and ALK-rearrangements in this disease.