Background Circulating epithelial cell (CEC) isolation has provided diagnostic and prognostic information for a variety of cancers, previously supporting their identity as circulating tumor cells in the literature. However, we report CEC findings in patients with benign, premalignant, and malignant pancreatic lesions using a size-selective filtration device. Study Design Peripheral blood samples were drawn from patients found to have pancreatic lesions on preoperative imaging at a surgical clinic. Blood was filtered using ScreenCell devices, which were evaluated microscopically by a pancreatic cytopathologist. Pathologic data and clinical outcomes of these patients were obtained from medical records during a 1-year follow-up period. Results Nine healthy volunteers formed the control group and were found to be negative for CECs. There were 179 patients with pancreatic lesions that formed the study cohort. Circulating epithelial cells were morphologically similar in patients with a variety of pancreatic lesions. Specifically, CECs were identified in 51 of 105 pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (49%), 7 of 11 neuroendocrine tumors (64%), 13 of 21 intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (62%), and 6 of 13 patients with chronic pancreatitis. Rates of CEC identification were similar in patients with benign, premalignant, and malignant lesions (p = 0.41). In addition, CEC findings in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma patients were not associated with poor prognosis. Conclusions Although CECs were not identified in healthy volunteers, they were identified in patients with benign, premalignant, and malignant pancreatic lesions. The presence of CECs in patients presenting with pancreatic lesions is neither diagnostic of malignancy nor prognostic for patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.
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