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Circulating tumour cells as a biomarker for diagnosis and staging in pancreatic cancer



Current diagnosis and staging of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) has important limitations and better biomarkers are needed to guide initial therapy. We investigated the performance of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) as an adjunctive biomarker at the time of disease presentation.


Venous blood (VB) was collected prospectively from 100 consecutive, pre-treatment patients with PDAC. Utilising the microfluidic NanoVelcro CTC chip, samples were evaluated for the presence and number of CTCs. KRAS mutation analysis was used to compare the CTCs with primary tumour tissue. CTC enumeration data was then evaluated as a diagnostic and staging biomarker in the setting of PDAC.


We found 100% concordance for KRAS mutation subtype between primary tumour and CTCs in all five patients tested. Evaluation of CTCs as a diagnostic revealed the presence of CTCs in 54/72 patients with confirmed PDAC (sensitivity=75.0%, specificity=96.4%, area under the curve (AUROC)=0.867, 95% CI=0.798-0.935, and P<0.001). Furthermore, a cut-off of ⩾3 CTCs in 4 ml VB was able to discriminate between local/regional and metastatic disease (AUROC=0.885; 95% CI=0.800-0.969; and P<0.001).


CTCs appear to function well as a biomarker for diagnosis and staging in PDAC.

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