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Circulating tumor cells as Trojan Horse for understanding, preventing, and treating cancer: a critical appraisal

Mentis, A-Fotios.A.; Grivas, P.D.; Dardiotis, E.; Romas, N.A.; Papavassiliou, A.G.

Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences: Cmls 77(18): 3671-3690

2020


ISSN/ISBN: 1420-682X
PMID: 32333084
DOI: 10.1007/s00018-020-03529-4
Accession: 070057295

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are regarded as harbingers of metastases. Their ability to predict response to therapy, relapse, and resistance to treatment has proposed their value as putative diagnostic and prognostic indicators. CTCs represent one of the zeniths of cancer evolution in terms of cell survival; however, the triggers of CTC generation, the identification of potentially metastatic CTCs, and the mechanisms contributing to their heterogeneity and aggressiveness represent issues not yet fully deciphered. Thus, prior to enabling liquid biopsy applications to reach clinical prime time, understanding how the above mechanistic information can be applied to improve treatment decisions is a key challenge. Here, we provide our perspective on how CTCs can provide mechanistic insights into tumor pathogenesis, as well as on CTC clinical value. In doing so, we aim to (a) describe how CTCs disseminate from the primary tumor, and their link to epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT); (b) trace the route of CTCs through the circulation, focusing on tumor self-seeding and the possibility of tertiary metastasis; (c) describe possible mechanisms underlying the enhanced metastatic potential of CTCs; (d) discuss how CTC could provide further information on the tissue of origin, especially in cancer of unknown primary origin. We also provide a comprehensive review of meta-analyses assessing the prognostic significance of CTCs, to highlight the emerging role of CTCs in clinical oncology. We also explore how cell-free circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) analysis, using a combination of genomic and phylogenetic analysis, can offer insights into CTC biology, including our understanding of CTC heterogeneity and tumor evolution. Last, we discuss emerging technologies, such as high-throughput quantitative imaging, radiogenomics, machine learning approaches, and the emerging breath biopsy. These technologies could compliment CTC and ctDNA analyses, and they collectively represent major future steps in cancer detection, monitoring, and management.

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