BACKGROUND: Circulating tumour cells (CTCs) can be used to monitor cancer longitudinally, but their use in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is limited due to low numbers in the peripheral blood. Through diagnostic leukapheresis (DLA) CTCs can be obtained from larger blood volumes.
METHODS: Patients with all stages of NSCLC were selected. One total body blood volume was screened by DLA before and after treatment. Peripheral blood was drawn pre- and post DLA for CTC enumeration by CellSearch. CTCs were detected in the DLA product (volume equalling 2 × 108 leucocytes) and after leucocyte depletion (RosetteSep, 9 mL DLA product). Single-cell, whole-genome sequencing was performed on isolated CTCs.
RESULTS: Fifty-six patients were included. Before treatment, CTCs were more often detected in DLA (32/55, 58%) than in the peripheral blood (pre-DLA: 18/55, 33%; post DLA: 13/55, 23%, both at p < 0.01). CTCs per 7.5 mL DLA product were median 9.2 times (interquartile range = 5.6-24.0) higher than CTCs in 7.5 mL blood. RosetteSEP did not significantly improve CTC detection (pretreatment: 34/55, 62%, post treatment: 16/34, 47%) and CTCs per mL even decreased compared to DLA (p = 0.04).. Patients with advanced-stage disease with DLA-CTC after treatment showed fewer tumour responses and shorter progression-free survival (PFS) than those without DLA-CTC (median PFS, 2.0 vs 12.0 months, p < 0.01). DLA-CTC persistence after treatment was independent of clinical factors associated with shorter PFS (hazard ratio (HR) = 5.8, 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.4-35.5, p = 0.02). All evaluable CTCs showed aneuploidy.
CONCLUSIONS: DLA detected nine times more CTCs than in the peripheral blood. The sustained presence of CTCs in DLA after treatment was associated with therapy failure and shortened PFS.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: The study was approved by the Medical Ethical Committee (NL55754.042.15) and was registered in the Dutch trial register (NL5423).