The biology and clinical potential of circulating tumor cells
Background. Tumor cells can shed from the tumor and enter the circulation and travel to distant organs, where they can seed metastases. These cells are called circulating tumor cells (CTCs). The ability of CTCs to populate distant tissues and organs has led us to believe they are the primary cause of cancer metastasis. The biological properties and interaction of CTCs with other cell types during intravasation, circulation in the bloodstream, extravasation and colonization are multifaceted and include changes of CTC phenotypes that are regulated by many signaling molecules, including cytokines and chemokines. Considering a sample is readily accessible by a simple blood draw, monitoring CTC levels in the blood has exceptional implications in oncology field. A method called the liquid biopsy allows the extraction of not only CTC, but also CTC products, such as cell free DNA (cfDNA), cell free RNA (cfRNA), microRNA (miRNA) and exosomes.
Conclusions. The clinical utility of CTCs and their products is increasing with advances in liquid biopsy technology. Clinical applications of liquid biopsy to detect CTCs and their products are numerous and could be used for screening of the presence of the cancer in the general population, as well as for prognostic and predictive biomarkers in cancer patients. With the development of better CTC isolation technologies and clinical testing in large prospective trials, increasing clinical utility of CTCs can be expected. The understanding of their biology and interactions with other cell types, particularly with of the immune system and the rise of immunotherapy also hold great promise for novel therapeutic possibilities.