Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Diagnostic value of circulating tumor cell detection in bladder and urothelial cancer: systematic review and meta-analysis

Pavlos Msaouel12* and Michael Koutsilieris1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Experimental Physiology, Medical School, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, 75 Micras Asias str., Goudi-Athens 115 27, Greece

2 Department of Internal Medicine, Jacobi Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:336  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-336

Published: 4 August 2011



The diagnostic value and prognostic significance of circulating tumor cell (CTC) detection in patients with bladder cancer is controversial. We performed a meta-analysis to consolidate current evidence regarding the use of CTC detection assays to diagnose bladder and other urothelial cancers and the association of CTC positivity with advanced, remote disease.


Studies that investigated the presence of CTCs in the peripheral blood of patients with bladder cancer and/or urothelial cancer were identified and reviewed. Sensitivities, specificities, and positive (LR+) and negative likelihood ratios (LR-) of CTC detection in individual studies were calculated and meta-analyzed by random effects model. Overall odds ratio of CTC positivity in patients with advanced disease versus those with organ-confined cancer was also calculated.


Overall sensitivity of CTC detection assays was 35.1% (95%CI, 32.4-38%); specificity, LR+, and LR- was 89.4% (95%CI, 87.2-91.3%), 3.77 (95%CI, 1.95-7.30) and 0.72 (95%CI, 0.64-0.81). CTC-positive patients were significantly more likely to have advanced (stage III-IV) disease compared with CTC-negative patients (OR, 5.05; 95%CI, 2.49-10.26).


CTC evaluation can confirm tumor diagnosis and identify patients with advanced bladder cancer. However, due to the low overall sensitivity, CTC detection assays should not be used as initial screening tests.