Background: Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are cells that have detached from solid tumors and entered the blood. CTCs can be detected, among others, by semi-automated immunomagnetic enrichment and image cytometry using CellSearch® (Veridex, Raritan, NJ). We studied the feasibility of external quality assurance (EQA) of the entire CellSearch procedure from blood draw to interpretation of results in multiple laboratories. Methods: Blood samples from six cancer patients and controls were distributed to 14 independent laboratories to test between-laboratory, between-assay, and between-instrument variation. Additionally, between-operator variability was assessed through the interpretation of blinded images of all blood samples on a website. Results: Shipment and storage of samples had no influence on CTC values. Between-instrument (coefficient of variation (CV) < 12%) and between-assay variation was low (CV ≤ 20%), indicating high reproducibility. However, between-laboratory CV ranged from 45 to 64%. Although inter-operator agreement on image interpretation (Fleiss' I° statistics) ranged from " to "almost perfect," image interpretation, particularly of samples containing high numbers of apoptotic cells, was the main contributor to between-laboratory variation. Conclusions: This multicenter study shows the feasibility of an EQA program for CTC detection in patient samples, and the importance of continuation of such a program for the harmonization of CTC enumeration.

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Cytometry Part B - Clinical Cytometry
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Kraan, J., Sleijfer, S., Strijbos, M., Ignatiadis, M., Peeters, D., Pierga, J. Y., … Gratama, J.-W. (2011). External quality assurance of circulating tumor cell enumeration using the CellSearch® system: A feasibility study. Cytometry Part B - Clinical Cytometry, 80 B(2), 112–118. doi:10.1002/cyto.b.20573