Molecular Medicine

, Volume 21, Supplement 1, pp S25–S31 | Cite as

Detection and Clinical Significance of Circulating Tumor Cells in Colorectal Cancer—20 Years of Progress

  • Jennifer E. Hardingham
  • Phulwinder Grover
  • Marnie Winter
  • Peter J. Hewett
  • Timothy J. Price
  • Benjamin Thierry
Invited Review Article


Circulating tumor cells (CTC) may be defined as tumor- or metastasis-derived cells that are present in the bloodstream. The CTC pool in colorectal cancer (CRC) patients may include not only epithelial tumor cells, but also tumor cells undergoing epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and tumor stem cells. A significant number of patients diagnosed with early stage CRC subsequently relapse with recurrent or metastatic disease despite undergoing “curative” resection of their primary tumor. This suggests that an occult metastatic disease process was already underway, with viable tumor cells being shed from the primary tumor site, at least some of which have proliferative and metastatic potential and the ability to survive in the bloodstream. Such tumor cells are considered to be responsible for disease relapse in these patients. Their detection in peripheral blood at the time of diagnosis or after resection of the primary tumor may identify those early-stage patients who are at risk of developing recurrent or metastatic disease and who would benefit from adjuvant therapy. CTC may also be a useful adjunct to radiological assessment of tumor response to therapy. Over the last 20 years many approaches have been developed for the isolation and characterization of CTC. However, none of these methods can be considered the gold standard for detection of the entire pool of CTC. Recently our group has developed novel unbiased inertial microfluidics to enrich for CTC, followed by identification of CTC by imaging flow cytometry. Here, we provide a review of progress on CTC detection and clinical significance over the last 20 years.



This work was supported by grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council Australia (project grant APP1045841), Cancer Council of South Australia, and the Hospital Research Foundation.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer E. Hardingham
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Phulwinder Grover
    • 4
  • Marnie Winter
    • 5
  • Peter J. Hewett
    • 4
  • Timothy J. Price
    • 2
    • 6
  • Benjamin Thierry
    • 5
  1. 1.Molecular Oncology Group, Haematology-Oncology Department, Level 1The Basil Hetzel Institute, The Queen Elizabeth HospitalWoodvilleAustralia
  2. 2.School of MedicineUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.Centre for Personalized MedicineUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Department of SurgeryThe Queen Elizabeth HospitalWoodvilleAustralia
  5. 5.Ian Wark Research InstituteUniversity of South AustraliaMawson LakesAustralia
  6. 6.Medical OncologyThe Queen Elizabeth HospitalWoodvilleAustralia

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