Circulating Tumor Cells are an Independent Predictor of Shorter Survival in Patients Undergoing Resection for Pancreatic and Periampullary Adenocarcinoma

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We evaluated the prognostic impact of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) for patients with presumed resectable pancreatic and periampullary cancers.

Summary of Background Data:

Initial treatment decisions for this group are currently taken without a reliable prognostic marker. The CellSearch system allows standardized CTC-testing and has shown excellent specificity and prognostic value in other applications.


Preoperative blood samples from 242 patients between September 2009 and December 2014 were analyzed. One hundred seventy-nine patients underwent tumor resection, of whom 30 with stage-I tumors and duodenal cancer were assigned to the low-risk group, and the others to the high-risk group. Further 33 had advanced disease, 30 benign histology. Observation ended in December 2016. Cancer-specific survival (CSS) and disease-free survival (DFS) were calculated by log-rank and Cox regression.


CTCs (CTC-positive; ≥1 CTC/7.5 mL) were detected in 6.8% (10/147) of the high-risk patients and 6.2% (2/33) with advanced disease. No CTCs (CTC-negative) were detected in the low-risk patients or benign disease. In high-risk patients, median CSS for CTC-positive versus CTC-negative was 8.1 versus 20.0 months (P < 0.0001), and DFS 4.0 versus 10.5 months (P < 0.001). Median CSS in advanced disease was 7.7 months. Univariate hazard ratio (HR) of CTC-positivity was 3.4 (P < 0.001). In multivariable analysis, CTC-status remained independent (HR: 2.4, P = 0.009) when corrected for histological type (HR: 2.7, P = 0.030), nodal status (HR: 1.7, P = 0.016), and vascular infiltration (HR: 1.7, P = 0.001).


Patients testing CTC-positive preoperatively showed a detrimental outcome despite successful tumor resections. Although the low CTC-rate seems a limiting factor, results indicate high specificity. Thus, preoperative analysis of CTCs by this test may guide treatment decisions and warrants further testing in clinical trials.

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