Circulating tumor cells undergoing EMT are poorly correlated with clinical stages or predictive of recurrence in hepatocellular carcinoma

Sci Rep. 2019 May 8;9(1):7084. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-43572-1.


Experimental and clinical studies have highlighted that circulating tumor cell (CTC) with phenotypic hallmarks of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) plays a critical role in the metastatic and recurrence of solid malignancy. Here we retrospectively evaluated the presence of CTC and its EMT phenotypes in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients and investigated their clinical relevance. We optimized the CanpatrolTM CTC analysis system to enumerate CTC and classify EMT phenotypes in 113 HCC patients before curative treatment and 143 HCC patients after curative treatment. The relationships between CTC and clinical characteristics were statistically analyzed. None of total CTC or its EMT phenotypes in HCC patients was correlated with clinical characteristics, such as age, sex, HBsAg, Child-Pugh score, liver cirrhosis, AFP, number of tumors, tumor size, vascular invasion and BCLC stage. Neither the level of total CTC nor its EMT phenotypes in HCC patients before or after curative treatment were predictive of recurrence. Additionally, dynamic changes of CTC and its EMT phenotypes were not relevant to HCC recurrence after curative treatment in our study. Wefound CTC count and EMT classification were not correlated with clinical stages or predictive of HCC recurrence, but further large, multicenter studies are needed to confirm these results.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / blood*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / therapy
  • Cell Count
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / blood*
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating*
  • Phenotype*
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule