Clinical cancer research : an official journal of the American Association for Cancer Research

Circulating tumor cells in patients with testicular germ cell tumors.

PMID 24634372


Germ cell tumors (GCTs) represent the most frequent malignancies among young men, but little is known about circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in these tumors. Considering their heterogeneity, CTCs were investigated using two independent assays targeting germ cell tumor and epithelial cell-specific markers, and results were correlated with disease stage, histology, and serum tumor markers. CTCs were enriched from peripheral blood (n = 143 patients) and testicular vein blood (TVB, n = 19 patients) using Ficoll density gradient centrifugation. For CTC detection, a combination of germ cell tumor (anti-SALL4, anti-OCT3/4) and epithelial cell-specific (anti-keratin, anti-EpCAM) antibodies was used. In parallel, 122 corresponding peripheral blood samples were analyzed using the CellSearch system. In total, CTCs were detected in 25 of 143 (17.5%) peripheral blood samples, whereas only 11.5% of patients were CTC-positive when considering exclusively the CellSearch assay. The presence of CTCs in peripheral blood correlated with clinical stage (P < 0.001) with 41% of CTC positivity in patients with metastasized tumors and 100% in patients with relapsed and chemotherapy-refractory disease. Histologically, CTC-positive patients suffered more frequently from nonseminomatous primary tumors (P < 0.001), with higher percentage of yolk sac (P < 0.001) and teratoma (P = 0.004) components. Furthermore, CTC detection was associated with elevated serum levels of α-fetoprotein (AFP; P = 0.025), β-human chorionic gonadotropin (βHCG; P = 0.002), and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH; P = 0.002). Incidence and numbers of CTCs in TVB were much higher than in peripheral blood. The inclusion of germ cell tumor-specific markers improves CTC detection in GCTs. CTCs occur frequently in patients with more aggressive disease, and there is a gradient of CTCs with decreasing numbers from the tumor-draining vein to the periphery.