Objective: We prospectively tested whether circulating tumor cells can be found in the preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative peripheral blood of patients with resectable non-small cell lung cancer who undergo video-assisted lobectomy.
Methods: We assayed for carcinoembryonic antigen messenger RNA (mRNA) by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction in the peripheral blood taken before, during, just after the completion of the lobectomy and then 2 to 3 weeks, and again 5 to 6 weeks, after the operation in 29 patients with pathologic stage I non-small cell lung cancer who underwent video-assisted lobectomy. We also analyzed the prognostic value of carcinoembryonic antigen mRNA expression pattern in an additional 57 patients with stage I non-small cell lung cancer, whose blood samples were previously assayed for carcinoembryonic antigen mRNA.
Results: Of the 29 patients, the preoperative blood samples from 18 patients were negative for carcinoembryonic antigen mRNA. Of these 18 patients, 16 (89%) had positive test results during operation, although the remaining 2 patients (11%) consistently showed negative test results. The occurrence of this change from negative to positive tests results for carcinoembryonic antigen mRNA during video-assisted lobectomy was significantly higher than in patients who underwent open lobectomy in a previous study (18 of 35 patients; 51%; P <.001). In the 57 patients with stage I cancer whose blood samples were previously assayed for carcinoembryonic antigen mRNA, patients with persistently positive test results for carcinoembryonic antigen mRNA before and during operation had a significantly shorter survival when compared with those patients whose test results were persistently positive.
Conclusions: Video-assisted lobectomy, as compared with open lobectomy, for non-small cell lung cancer may increase the risk of seeding tumor cells into the circulation during operation.