Background Among gastrointestinal cancers, the prognosis of pancreatic cancer is one of the poorest, with a large number of patients being diagnosed with unresectable tumors at the first visit to a doctor. The aims of the present study were to investigate the circulating tumor cells (CTC) in peripheral blood in order to assess their clinical significance in patients with pancreatic cancer. Methods Sixty-five patients with advanced pancreatic cancer were enrolled. Borderline resectable pancreatic tumor patients were 9, and Unresectable patients were 56. The CellSearch system was used to isolate and enumerate CTCs. Results CTCs were identified in 21 out of 65 patients (32.3%) with only unresectable tumors. The overall survival rate was significantly lower in unresectable patients with than in those without CTCs (P = 0.0051). CTC positivity was significantly higher in patients with than in those without liver metastasis. A multivariate analysis identified the presence or absence of CTCs as an independent prognostic factor. Follow-up blood specimens were obtained from 40 patients treated with chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy. The incidences of CTC positivity at three months after beginning of treatments in patients with progressive disease and stable disease or a partial response were 45.4% and 24.1%, respectively. The overall survival rate was significantly lower in patients with than in those without CTCs even after treatments (P = 0.045). Conclusion CTC numbers represents a useful tool for predicting prognoses and therapeutic responses to chemotherapy among patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.
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