Circulating Tumour Cells

Original imaged source: NCI Visuals Online

A growing tumour is made up of many different cancer cells. If a cancer is malignant, a select population of cancer cells can escape the tumour mass and invade the blood stream. When this happens, the cancer is at a turning point. Escapee cancer cells in the blood stream can travel to another site in the body and grow a second tumour at a later stage, called a metastasis. These escapee cancer cells in the blood are called Circulating Tumour Cells, abbreviated as ‘CTCs.'

Video: Circulating Tumour Cells

About Cancer, DNA, and Circulating Tumour Cells

From the time malignant tumours have reached a size of 1-2 mm, they release thousands of malignant cells into the circulation. Most of those die or get killed off. The more aggressive ones survive and remain in the circulation as CTCs. They have the potential to dispatch into a foreign site in the body in order to proliferate and create a ‘secondary cancer,’ also known as a ‘metastasis.’ Their ability to do this is unique to CTCs, i.e. the rest of the population of tumour cells is not able to do this.

Thus far, it has been impossible to predict how two people with the same type of cancer will respond to treatment. Through the analysis of CTCs it is possible to provide clinicians with information to help overcome this challenge. CTCs contain all the information for the establishment of a secondary cancer.  Therefore, with the use of new molecular technology, it is now possible to determine the exact nature of a patient’s actively metastasising cancer cell population (CTCs).

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