Context: Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare malignancy, the prognosis of which is mainly dependent on stage at diagnosis. The identification of disease-associated markers for early diagnosis and drug monitoring is mandatory. Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are released into the bloodstream from primary tumor/metastasis. CTC detection in blood samples may have enormous potential for assisting in the diagnosis of malignancy, estimating prognosis, and monitoring the disease.
Objective: The aim of the study was to investigate the presence of CTCs in blood samples of patients with ACC or benign adrenocortical adenoma (ACA).
Setting: We conducted the study at a university hospital.
Intervention: CTC analysis was performed in blood samples from 14 ACC patients and 10 ACA patients. CTCs were isolated on the basis of cell size by filtration through ScreenCell devices, followed by identification according to validated morphometric criteria and immunocytochemistry.
Main outcome measure: We measured the difference in CTC detection between ACC and ACA.
Results: CTCs were detected in all ACC samples, but not in ACA samples. Immunocytochemistry confirmed the adrenocortical origin. When ACC patients were stratified according to the median value of tumor diameter and metastatic condition, a statistically significant difference was found in the number of CTCs detected after surgery. A significant correlation between the number of CTCs in postsurgical samples and clinical parameters was found for tumor diameter alone.
Conclusions: Our findings provide the first evidence for adrenocortical tumors that CTCs may represent a useful marker to support differential diagnosis between ACC and ACA. The correlation with some clinical parameters suggests a possible relevance of CTC analysis for prognosis and noninvasive monitoring of disease progression and drug response.