Over the last decade, the immune checkpoint blockade targeting the programmed death protein 1 (PD-1)/programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) axis has improved progression-free and overall survival of advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients. PD-L1 tumor expression, along with tumor mutational burden, is currently being explored as a predictive biomarker for responses to immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs). However, lung cancer patients may have insufficient tumor tissue samples and the high bleeding risk often prevents additional biopsies and, as a consequence, immunohistological evaluation of PD-L1 expression. In addition, PD-L1 shows a dynamic expression profile and can be influenced by intratumoral heterogeneity as well as the immune cell infiltrate in the tumor and its microenvironment, influencing the response rate to PD-1/PD-L1 axis ICIs. Therefore, to identify subgroups of patients with advanced NSCLC that will most likely benefit from ICI therapies, molecular characterization of PD-L1 expression in circulating tumor cells (CTCs) might be supportive. In this review, we highlight the use of CTCs as a complementary diagnostic tool for PD-L1 expression analysis in advanced NSCLC patients. In addition, we examine technical issues of PD-L1 measurement in tissue as well as in CTCs.
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