Background/aim: The presence of circulating tumor cells (CTC) has been reported to have an impact on prognosis in different tumor entities. Little is known about CTC morphology and heterogeneity.
Patients and methods: In a multicenter setting, pre-therapeutic peripheral blood specimens were drawn from patients with non-metastatic esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC). CTCs were captured by size-based filtration (ScreenCell®), subsequently Giemsa-stained and evaluated by two trained readers. The isolated cells were categorized in groups based on morphologic criteria.
Results: Small and large single CTCs, as well as CTC-clusters, were observed in 69.2% (n=81) of the 117 specimens; small CTCs were observed most frequently (59%; n=69), followed by large CTCs (40%; n=47) and circulating cancer-associated macrophage-like cells (CAMLs; 34.2%, n=40). Clusters were rather rare (12%; n=14). CTC/CAML were heterogeneous in the cohort, but also within one specimen. Neither the presence of the CTC subtypes/CAMLs nor the exact cell count were associated with the primary clinical TNM stage.
Conclusion: Morphologically heterogenic CTCs and CAMLs are present in patients with non-metastatic, non-pretreated EAC.