The significance of circulating tumor cells in prostate cancer patients undergoing adjuvant or salvage radiation therapy

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Following radical prostatectomy, success of adjuvant and salvage radiation therapy (RT) is dependent on the absence of micrometastatic disease. However, reliable prognostic/predictive factors for determining this are lacking. Therefore, novel biomarkers are needed to assist with clinical decision-making in this setting. Enumeration of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) using the regulatory-approved CellSearch System (CSS) is prognostic in metastatic prostate cancer. We hypothesize that CTCs may also be prognostic in the post-prostatectomy setting.


Patient blood samples (n = 55) were processed on the CSS to enumerate CTCs at 0, 6, 12 and 24 months after completion of RT. CTC values were correlated with predictive/prognostic factors and progression-free survival.


CTC status (presence/absence) correlated significantly with positive margins (increased likelihood of CTCneg disease; P = 0.032), and trended toward significance with the presence of seminal vesicle invasion (CTCpos; P = 0.113) and extracapsular extension (CTCneg; P = 0.116). Although there was a trend toward a decreased time to biochemical failure (BCF) in baseline CTC-positive patients (n = 9), this trend was not significant (hazard ratio (HR) = 0.3505; P = 0.166). However, CTC-positive status at any point (n = 16) predicted for time to BCF (HR = 0.2868; P = 0.0437).


One caveat of this study is the small sample size utilized (n = 55) and the low number of patients with CTC-positive disease (n = 16). However, our results suggest that CTCs may be indicative of disseminated disease and assessment of CTCs during RT may be helpful in clinical decision-making to determine, which patients may benefit from RT versus those who may benefit more from systemic treatments.

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