URL with Digital Object Identifier
Although circulating tumor cells (CTCs) were first observed over a century ago, lack of sensitive methodology precluded detailed study of these cells until recently. However, technological advances have now facilitated the identification, enumeration, and characterization of CTCs using a variety of methods. The majority of evidence supporting the use of CTCs in clinical decision-making has been related to enumeration using the CellSearch((R)) system and correlation with prognosis. Growing evidence also suggests that CTC monitoring can provide an early indication of patient treatment response based on comparison of CTC levels before and after therapy. However, perhaps the greatest potential that CTCs hold for oncology lies at the level of molecular characterization. Clinical treatment decisions may be more effective if they are based on molecular characteristics of metastatic cells rather than on those of the primary tumor alone. Molecular characterization of CTCs (which can be repeatedly isolated in a minimally invasive fashion) provides the opportunity for a. "real-time liquid biopsy" that allows assessment of genetic drift, investigation of molecular disease evolution, and identification of actionable genomic characteristics. This review focuses on recent advances in this area, including approaches involving immunophenotyping, fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), multiplex RT-PCR, microarray, and genomic sequencing.