Circulating Tumor Cells and Implications of the Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition
Advances in Clinical Chemistry
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The majority of cancer-related deaths result from metastasis, the process by which cancer cells escape the primary tumor site and enter into the blood circulation in order to disseminate to secondary locations throughout the body. Tumor cells found within the circulation are referred to as circulating tumor cells (CTCs), and their detection and enumeration correlate with poor prognosis. The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a dynamic process that imparts epithelial cells with mesenchymal-like properties, thus facilitating tumor cell dissemination and contributing to metastasis. However, EMT also results in the downregulation of various epithelial proteins typically utilized by CTC technologies for enrichment and detection of these rare cells, resulting in reduced detection of some CTCs, potentially those with a more metastatic phenotype. In addition to the current clinical role of CTCs as a prognostic biomarker, they also have potential as a predictive biomarker via CTC characterization. However, CTC characterization is complicated by the unknown biological significance of CTCs possessing an EMT-like phenotype, and the ability to capture and understand this CTC subpopulation is an essential step in the utilization of CTCs for patient management. This chapter will review the process of EMT and its contribution to metastasis; discusses current and future clinical applications of CTCs; and describes both traditional and novel methods for CTC enrichment, detection, and characterization with a specific focus on CTCs with an EMT phenotype.