NOV 16, 2016 1:26 PM PST

Circulating Tumor Cells Signal Prostate Cancer Invasion

In surveying men with prostate cancer, scientists report that circulating tumor cells can be found in the blood. Furthermore, the presence of these cells appear to correspond with cancer aggressiveness and metastasis. This makes the cells viable biomarkers for the screening and management of prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer represents a huge health risk – it is the most common form of cancer in men. In 2013, nearly 2.8 million men were living with prostate cancer in the US. Fortunately, prostate cancer has one of the better 5-year survival rates at 98.9 percent.
"There's a need to develop better tests to identify and monitor men with aggressive prostate cancer. This research has found a promising new marker that could one day make it to the clinic to guide treatment decisions,” said Chris Parker, Chair of the NCRI's Prostate Cancer Clinical Studies Group.
Indeed, circulating tumor DNA, also known as cell-free tumor DNA, is a non-invasive biomarker that’s already being adapted for other cancer types, including ovarian cancer and melanoma.

The team, led by Yong-Jie Lu, surveyed 80 samples from men with prostate cancer. In these samples, the team was able to detect the presence of circulating tumor cells in the blood. In addition, the presence of these cells correlated with the aggressiveness of the disease. This makes sense since tumor cells that can migrate and invade outside of its primary location are notoriously more aggressive.
"Our research shows that the number of these specific cells in a patient's sample is a good indicator of prostate cancer spreading. By identifying these cells, which have gained the ability to move through the body, we have found a potential new way to monitor the disease,” said Lu.
To test for these biomarkers in the blood will only require a blood sample. This would facilitate the active monitoring for prostate cancer patients, since doctors don’t have to wait for tumor growth to get a DNA sample. Furthermore, the presence of these tumor cells would make it possible for doctors to detect metastasis earlier, which would hasten treatment and improve outcomes for patients. And considering that prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men, every preemptive effort counts.

Of note, this study is the first to show that a blood-based biomarker can be correlated with prostate cancer spread. If validation holds up, this could transform how doctors monitor prostate cancer progression.
"If we're able to replicate these studies in larger groups of people, we may be able to one day predict the risk of someone's cancer spreading so they can make more informed treatment decisions,” said Lu.

Additional sources: MNT
About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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