Circulating tumour cell biomarkers in head and neck cancer: Current progress and future prospects

Karl Payne*, Jill Brooks, Rachel Spruce, Nikolaos Batis, Graham Taylor, Paul Nankivell, Hisham Mehanna

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Head and neck cancer (HNC) continues to carry a significant burden of disease both for patients and health services. Facilitating biomarker-led treatment decisions is critical to improve outcomes in this group and deliver therapy tailored to the individual tumour biological profile. One solution to develop such biomarkers is a liquid biopsy analysing circulating tumour cells (CTCs)—providing a non-invasive and dynamic assessment of tumour specific alterations in ‘real-time’. A major obstacle to implementing such a test is the standardisation of CTC isolation methods and subsequent down-stream analysis. Several options are available, with a recent shift in vogue from positive-selection marker-dependent isolation systems to marker-independent negative-selection techniques. HNC single-CTC characterisation, including single-cell sequencing, to identify actionable mutations and gene-expression signatures has the potential to both guide the understanding of patient tumour heterogeneity and support the adoption of personalised medicine strategies. Microfluidic approaches for isolating CTCs and cell clusters are emerging as novel technologies which can be incorporated with computational platforms to complement current diagnostic and prognostic strategies. We review the current literature to assess progress regarding CTC biomarkers in HNC and potential avenues for future translational research and clinical implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1115
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • Biomarker
  • Circulating tumour cell
  • Head and neck cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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