Isolated organ perfusion does not result in systemic microembolization of tumor cells

Peter C. Wu, Andrea McCart, Stephen M. Hewitt, Ewa Turner, Steven K. Libutti, David L. Bartlett, H. Richard Alexander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Isolated organ perfusion with hyperthermia and melphalan with or without tumor necrosis factor-α has been effectively used to treat regionally confined, unresectable malignancies of both the limb and liver. Many patients, however, will eventually relapse at distant sites. We used reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to determine whether significant tumor microembolization occurs in patients undergoing isolated limb perfusion (ILP), isolated hepatic perfusion (IHP), or hepatic resection. Methods: Primers specific for the human tyrosinase gene or carcinoembryonic antigen gene were designed for RT-PCR to screen melanoma or colon adenocarcinoma, respectively. RNA from human melanoma lines (Pmel and 1286) and human colon adenocarcinoma lines (H508 and HT29) were used to generate positive control cDNA. Normal human blood was inoculated with tumor cells at concentrations that ranged from 10-2 to 105 tumor cells/ml of blood to define the sensitivity. Systemic and perfusate blood samples were drawn from 15 patients (8 patients underwent IHP, 5 patients underwent ILP, and 2 patients underwent resection) before the start of the operation, immediately before and during the perfusion, and postoperatively. Mononuclear cell fractions were separated from the blood samples and RNA was extracted for the RT-PCR assay. Standard primers for human β-actin were used to confirm that cDNA was generated after the RT reaction. Results: RT-PCR assay sensitivity was determined to be 10 tumor cells/ml of whole blood. Of the 8 IHP patients, 6 had colon metastases and 2 had ocular melanoma metastases to the liver. All 5 ILP patients had in transit melanoma of the extremity. Two patients with colon metastases to the liver were found to have resectable disease. There were no detectable circulating tumor cells in the systemic circulation either preoperatively or postoperatively in all 15 patients that were screened. Conclusions: RT-PCR is a highly sensitive method of detecting tumor cells in perfusate or blood. Manipulation of the limb or liver followed by resection or isolated hyperthermic perfusion does not cause detectable release of circulating tumor cells. The late development of distant metastases observed in many of these patients does not correlate with the ability to measure circulating tumor cells during regional therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)658-663
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of Surgical Oncology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1999


  • Carcinoembryonic antigen
  • Isolated organ perfusion
  • RT-PCR
  • Tumor microembolization
  • Tyrosinase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Oncology


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