Background: Early-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients have a high risk of disease relapse despite curatively intended surgical resection, and the detection of tumour cells in the bone marrow could be one method of determining the presence of the disseminated disease in its early stages.
Methods: Bone marrow aspirates were collected from 296 patients at the time of surgery, and the presence of disseminated tumour cells was determined with the help of immunomagnetic selection (IMS) using the MOC31-antibody recognising EpCAM and with the help of standard immunocytochemistry (ICC) using the anti-cytokeratin (CK) antibodies AE1/AE3.
Results: Disseminated tumour cells were found in 152 of 252 (59%) bone marrow samples using IMS and in 25 of 234 (11%) samples using ICC. No association between the two detection methods was observed. The presence of EpCAM⁺ cells was not associated with any clinicopathological parameters, whereas a higher frequency of CK⁺ cells was found in patients with an advanced pT status. Disseminated tumour cells, as detected using IMS, had no prognostic impact. Patients with CK⁺ cells in the bone marrow had a reduced relapse-free survival, but the difference was not statistically significant.
Conclusion: Our findings do not support the further development of DTC detection for clinical use in early-stage NSCLC. Future studies should include the molecular characterisation of DTCs, along with an attempt to identify subpopulations of cells with biological and clinical significance.