Elevated Levels of Circulating Endothelial Progenitor Cells in Head and Neck Cancer Patients

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Background and Objectives:

Measurement of circulating endothelial cells (CECs) and progenitor cells (EPCs) has potential as a surrogate marker for monitoring anticancer treatment. This study evaluated the significance of CECs and EPCs in the blood of patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.


In a prospective trial fresh blood samples from 22 tumor patients and 18 controls were tested using multiparametric flow-cytometry. CECs were defined as CD31+/CD146+ and CD45-/7AAD-. EPCs were defined as CD133+/KDR+ and CD3-/CD19-/CD33-/7AAD-.


Median levels (min/max) of CECs in the tumor group were 2 (0/5) at the time of diagnosis, 1 (0/5) 1 year after therapy and 2 (0/6) in the control cohort. Median levels of EPCs were 5 (1/41) before and 10 (0/21) after treatment in the tumor group compared to 2 (0/7) in the control cohort (P < 0.001 and P = 0.03). CEC and EPC levels showed no apparent correlation with tumor size and response to radiotherapy after 18 months of observation.


In this pilot study CD133+/KDR+ EPCs were significantly elevated in head and neck tumor patients before and after therapy. Our results warrant further studies on the use of EPCs as a surrogate marker for anticancer therapies in these patients.

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