I read this article from Hamburg-Eppendorf with great interest . The treatment of invasive urothelial carcinoma has not significantly progressed in the last 30 years, with survivals currently that are little changed since the first introduction of multi-drug platinum-based chemotherapy in the 1980s. Moreover, the broad application of chemotherapy, whether it is in the preoperative or postoperative domains, is associated with significant morbidity in this generally elderly population. As 60–80% of patients are cured by surgery alone, the broad use of chemotherapy in any setting results in unnecessary morbidity and occasionally mortality in some patients unnecessarily. Multiple patients have a permanent reduction in renal function when platinum is used in this setting. The decision to treat preoperatively is limited by inaccurate clinical staging and in the postoperative setting may be compromised by slow or incomplete surgical recovery.
The measurement of preoperative circulating tumour cells (CTC) provides us with a rational approach to more accurately select patients for neoadjuvant chemotherapy and would seem according to this article to independently predict disease recurrence, even when considering aggressive variant histologies. Examining Figure 2, one finds that even with variant histology, 60% of patients will not recur after cystectomy if they are CTC negative. The differences are even more profound in pure urothelial carcinoma, where the presence of detectable CTC decreases survival by 50%. The authors are to be congratulated for providing us with a potential rational methodology to determine the benefit from neoadjuvant chemotherapy in patients with bladder cancer prior to cystectomy. Next we should await the analysis of clinical trials stratified by CTC status.