Since the first report in the nineteenth century, there have been numerous reports on the isolation and characterization of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in peripheral blood in patients with various carcinomas. In general, CTCs have been observed in the peripheral blood of cancer patients at very low concentrations of 10-7-10-8 of normal peripheral blood cells. The characterization is of considerable biomedical interest in order to understand how these cells can travel via the blood stream to anatomically distant sites and form metastatic disease. Recent progress in molecular oncology enables us to detect the CTCs in blood with highly sensitivity and specificity, and several studies have indicated the prognostic value of CTC detection in patients with gastrointestinal cancers. Detection and measurement of CTCs in patients with gastrointestinal cancers such as colorectal, gastric, and pancreatic cancers can be useful as a promising tool for judging tumor stage, predicting the distant metastasis and patient survival, and monitoring the response to cancer therapy. Standard procedures for CTC detection have to be established, and the clinical relevance should be verified in large-scale clinical trials. However, CTC detection is suggested to provide useful information for the tumor staging and anticancer treatments in clinical practices in the near future.
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