An advanced blood analysis that detects and evaluates circulating tumor cells in cancer patients provides information that could soon be comparable to that obtained from some types of biopsies.

Called HD-CTC (high-definition circulating tumor cell), the new test labels cells in a person’s blood sample to identify possible CTCs in advanced cancer. A digital microscope and an image-processing algorithm are then used to isolate suspect cells, allowing the pathologist to examine cell images, eliminate false-positives, and note cell morphologies, as a surgical biopsy does.

Peter Kuhn, PhD, an associate professor at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, led the team of oncologists and others who developed and tested the HD-CTC technology. The scientists published their results in five papers in Physical Biology (2012;9:016001-016005), all freely available and accompanied by an editorial coauthored by Kuhn (2012;9:01030;, who noted in a separate statement that the test significantly boosts the ability to monitor, predict, and understand cancer progression, including metastasis.

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The studies demonstrated the accuracy and effectiveness of HD-CTC in persons with stage IV cancer of the breast, lung, pancreas, or prostate ( For example, in one evaluation of 83 patients with advanced cancer, HD-CTC detected at least 5 CTCs per mL of blood in:

  • 80% of those with metastatic prostate cancer
  • 70% of those with metastatic breast cancer
  • 50% of those with metastatic pancreatic cancer
  • 0 healthy subjects.

These results as well as those of the other studies also indicated that the HD-CTC test enables a more complete analysis than do other CTC assays.