The idea of a liquid biopsy to screen, surveil and treat cancer patients is an intensively discussed and highly awaited tool in the field of oncology. Despite intensive research in this field, the clinical application has not been implemented yet and further research has to be conducted. However, one component of the liquid biopsy is circulating tumor cells (CTCs) whose potential for clinical application is evaluated in the following. CTCs can shed from primary tumors to the peripheral blood at any time point during the progress of a malignant disease. Following, one single CTC can be the origin for distant metastasis at later cancer stage. Thus, CTCs have great potential to either be used in cancer diagnostics and patient stratification or to function as a target for new therapeutic approaches to stop tumor dissemination and metastasis at the very early beginning. Due to the biological fundamental role of CTCs in tumor progression, here, we provide an overview of CTCs in gastrointestinal cancers and their potential use in the clinical setting. In particular, we discuss the usage of CTC for screening and stratifying patients' risk. Moreover, we will discuss the potential role of CTCs for treatment specification and treatment monitoring.
Keywords: cancer diagnosis; circulating tumor cells; free DNA; liquid biopsy; solid cancer/tumor.