Background: Real-time monitoring of treatment response with a liquid biomarker has potential to inform treatment decisions for patients with rectal adenocarcinoma (RAC), esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC), and colorectal liver metastasis (CRLM). Circulating hybrid cells (CHCs), which have both immune and tumor cell phenotypes, are detectable in the peripheral blood of patients with gastrointestinal cancers, but their potential as an indicator of treatment response is unexplored. Methods: Peripheral blood specimens were collected from RAC and EAC patients after neoadjuvant therapy (NAT) or longitudinally during therapy and evaluated for CHC levels by immunostaining. Receiver operating characteristics (ROCs) and the Kaplan-Meier method were used to analyze the CHC level as a predictor of pathologic response to NAT and disease-specific survival (DSS), respectively. Results: Patients with RAC (n = 23) and EAC (n = 34) were sampled on the day of resection, and 11 patients (32%) demonstrated a pathologic complete response (pCR) to NAT. On ROC analysis, CHC levels successfully discriminated pCR from non-pCR with an area under the curve of 0.82 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.71–0.92; P < 0.001). Additionally, CHC levels in the EAC patients correlated with residual nodal involvement (P = 0.026) and 1-year DSS (P = 0.029). The patients with RAC who were followed longitudinally during NAT (n = 2) and hepatic arterial infusion therapy for CRLM (n = 2) had CHC levels that decreased with therapy response and increased before clinical evidence of disease progression. Conclusion: Circulating hybrid cells are a novel blood-based biomarker with potential for monitoring treatment response and disease progression to help guide decisions for further systemic therapy, definitive resection, and post-therapy surveillance. Additional validation studies of CHCs are warranted.
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