Background: Detection of circulating malignant cells (CMCs) through a reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay seems to be a demonstration of systemic disease. We here evaluated the prognostic role of RT-PCR assays in serially-taken peripheral blood samples from patients with malignant melanoma (MM). Methods: One hundred forty-nine melanoma patients with disease stage ranging from I to III were consecutively collected in 1997. A multi-marker RT-PCR assay was used on peripheral blood samples obtained at time of diagnosis and every 6 months during the first two years of follow-up (total: 5 samples). Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed after 83 months of median follow-up. Results: Detection of at least one circulating mRNA marker was considered a signal of the presence of CMC (referred to as PCR-positive assay). A significant correlation was found between the rate of recurrences and the increasing number of PCR-positive assays (P = 0.007). Presence of CMC in a high number (≥2) of analysed blood samples was significantly correlated with a poor clinical outcome (disease-free survival: P = 0.019; overall survival: P = 0.034). Multivariate analysis revealed that presence of a PCR-positive status does play a role as independent prognostic factors for overall survival in melanoma patients, adding precision to the predictive power of the disease stage. Conclusion: Our findings indicated that serial RT-PCR assay may identify a high risk subset of melanoma patients with occult cancer cells constantly detected in blood circulation. Prolonged presence of CMCs seems to act as a surrogate marker of disease progression or a sign of more aggressive disease.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research