Background: Circulating tumour cells (CTCs) can provide information on patient prognosis and treatment efficacy. However, there is no universal method to detect CTC currently available. Here, we compared the performance of two CTC detection systems based on the expression of the EpCAM antigen (CellSearch assay) or on cell size (ISET assay).
Methods: Circulating tumour cells were enumerated in 60 patients with metastatic carcinomas of breast, prostate and lung origins using CellSearch according to the manufacturer's protocol and ISET by studying cytomorphology and immunolabelling with anti-cytokeratin or lineage-specific antibodies.
Results: Concordant results were obtained in 55% (11 out of 20) of the patients with breast cancer, in 60% (12 out of 20) of the patients with prostate cancer and in only 20% (4 out of 20) of lung cancer patients.
Conclusion: Our results highlight important discrepancies between the numbers of CTC enumerated by both techniques. These differences depend mostly on the tumour type. These results suggest that technologies limiting CTC capture to EpCAM-positive cells, may present important limitations, especially in patients with metastatic lung carcinoma.