Purpose: Timing and magnitude of blood release of circulating tumour cells (CTC) and circulating tumour microemboli (CTM) from primary solid cancers are uncertain. We investigated prevalence and number of CTC and CTM at diagnosis of advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
Methods: Twenty-eight consecutive patients with suspected stage III-IV lung cancer gave consent to provide 15 mL of peripheral blood soon before diagnostic CT-guided fine-needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB). CTC and CTM (clusters of ≥3 CTC) were isolated by cell size filtration (ScreenCell), identified and counted by cytopathologists using morphometric criteria and (in 6 cases) immunostained for vimentin.
Results: FNAB demonstrated NSCLC in 26 cases. At least one CTC/3 mL blood (mean 6.8 ± 3.7) was detected in 17 (65 %) and one CTM (mean 4.5 ± 3.3) in 15 (58 %) of 26 NSCLC cases. No correlation between number of CTC or CTM and tumour type or stage was observed. Neoplastic cells from both FNA and CTC/CTM were positive for vimentin but heterogeneously.
Conclusions: CTC can be detected in two-thirds and CTM in more than half of patients with advanced NSCLC at diagnosis. Reasons underlying lack of CTC and CTM in some advanced lung cancers deserve further investigations.