Clinical significance of circulating tumor cells in blood by molecular detection and tumor markers in esophageal cancer

Surgery. 2003 Feb;133(2):162-9. doi: 10.1067/msy.2003.9.


Background: The clinical significance of circulating tumor cells in the blood during surgery has not been elucidated in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). We evaluated the relationship between circulating tumor cells and clinicopathologic findings, compared with that of serum squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) antigen and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), in ESCC.

Methods: Blood samples from 54 consecutive patients were obtained from the peripheral artery and the superior vena cava at three points in time: immediately before surgery, and before and after tumor resection. CEA-specific reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which can quantify circulating tumor cells in blood, was performed. The preoperative values of serum SCC antigen and CEA were also obtained for all patients.

Results: CEA messenger RNA (CEA mRNA) was detected in the blood of 31 out of 54 patients (57.4%). CEA mRNA positivity was detected most frequently after tumor resection and correlated with nodal status and stage grouping. The incidence of total recurrence and blood-borne recurrence was significantly greater in patients with CEA mRNA positivity than in those with CEA mRNA negativity (P =.036 and.0026, respectively). Preoperative serum levels of SCC antigen and CEA did not correlate with clinicopathologic findings and tumor recurrence.

Conclusions: CEA mRNA detected by RT-PCR was more predictive of tumor recurrence than serum tumor markers. Effective adjuvant therapy is recommended for patients with CEA mRNA positive expression.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / surgery
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Preoperative Care
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Serpins*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Serpins
  • squamous cell carcinoma-related antigen