Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs) and Cancer Detection

Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs) and Cancer Detection

By Zhixi Qian

In 2012, cancer caused about 8.2 million deaths and it is the second major cause of mortality in the US. A major factor that leads to more cancer-related mortalities is metastasis. Metastasis means that cancer cells can spread inside the body and tumors occur in other parts of the body. The possibilities of curative treatment are greatly reduced, or often entirely removed, when a cancer has metastasized.

What Are Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs)?

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are cells that have detached from a primary tumor and are carried by the bloodstream. Research has shown that CTCs play an important role in the metastatic spread of cancer. Furthermore, single-cell analysis studies have demonstrated a high level of heterogeneity observed at the single cell level for both protein localization and expression. Studies also revealed that CTCs reflected both the primary biopsy and the changes seen in the metastatic sites. What’s even more intriguing is that CTCs can be detected in the early stages of cancer. If CTCs can be detected in time, it’s helpful in monitoring metastasis as well as early treatments.

A major setback, however, is that the concentration of CTCs inside a blood sample is rather low. It is usually less than 1 cell/ml. Among a large number of blood cells, an advanced cell detection method is needed to detect such low concentrations.

 Current Developments and Future Prospects

Researchers have developed several methods for CTC detection, and some of them like Cellsearchtm have already been put into commercial use. However, as the detection of cancer is a long-lasting battle, the next task for researchers is to make the cell detection technology available to more people. The simplification and practical use of a CTC detector will be the task for researchers in future.

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