Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are associated with tumor spread, whereas cancer stem cells may be related to drug resistance. However, few studies have analyzed the levels of circulating cancer stem cells (CCSCs) and CTCs in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
Treatment-naïve patients with EGFR-mutated NSCLC who received epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor (EGFR-TKI) therapy were recruited prospectively. The cell surface vimentin antibody was used for CTC detection and CD133 antibody for CCSC detection. CCSC and CTC levels were measured as cell count per 4 mL of blood, before treatment, after 2 and 12 weeks of treatment, and at disease progression. Data on clinical characteristics and outcomes were also collected.
At diagnosis (n = 29), the median CCSC and CTC levels were 0 (interquartile range, 0-2) and 3 (2-9), respectively. After 12 weeks, the CCSC and CTC levels were lower than those at diagnosis (CCSC: 0 (0-0), p = 0.14; CTC: 1 (0-4), p = 0.048). At disease progression, the median CCSC and CTC levels were 0 (0-1) and 1 (0-2), respectively. Patients with higher CCSC and CTC levels at diagnosis had a numerically shorter progression-free survival.
In patients with EGFR-mutated NSCLC, CCSC and CTC levels became lower after 12 weeks of EGFR-TKI therapy and remained low at disease progression. High pre-treatment CCSC and CTC levels may be associated with a trend towards poor treatment outcomes.

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