Detection and quantitation of circulating cancer cells in peripheral blood may improve cancer staging and monitoring. This study explored the feasibility of using circulating cancer cell detection in peripheral blood for the rapid assessment of chemotherapeutic response. Cytokeratin 19 mRNA was amplified by nested reverse transcriptase-PCR in the peripheral blood of 29 healthy volunteers, 33 pneumonia patients, and 86 lung cancer patients. Circulating cancer cells in the peripheral blood were semiquantitatively determined by taking the ratio of cytokeratin 19 band intensity from the second round of nested PCR to the glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase band intensity from the first round of PCR amplification. The detection limit of the method was 1 cancer cell in 107 peripheral blood mononuclear cells. The positive detection rate was 40% for lung adenocarcinoma patients of all stages, 41% for squamous carcinoma patients of all stages, and 27% for small cell lung cancer patients. Only one control sample from a pneumonia patient showed a positive result (1.6%). The quantitative method reliably and sensitively estimated cancer cell numbers in the peripheral blood of lung cancer patients. Serial measurement of the relative number of circulating cancer cells correlated with the tumor burden and treatment response of patients. This method may help rapidly assess the efficacy of anticancer treatment, redefine cancer staging, and facilitate the design of better therapeutic strategies for the treatment of cancer patients.


This work was supported by Metastasis Program Project grant from Academia Sinica (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China).

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