Clinical and biological significance of circulating tumor cells, circulating tumor DNA, and exosomes as biomarkers in colorectal cancer

Shiyu Jia, Rui Zhang, Ziyang Li and Jinming Li _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:55632-55645. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.17184

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Shiyu Jia1,2,3, Rui Zhang2,3, Ziyang Li2,3,4 and Jinming Li1,2,3

1Peking University Fifth School of Clinical Medicine, Beijing, People’s Republic of China

2National Center for Clinical Laboratories, Beijing Hospital, National Center of Gerontology, Beijing, People’s Republic of China

3Beijing Engineering Research Center of Laboratory Medicine, Beijing Hospital, Beijing, People’s Republic of China

4Graduate School, Peking Union Medical College, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, People’s Republic of China

Correspondence to:

Jinming Li, email: [email protected]

Keywords: colorectal cancer (CRC), liquid biopsy, circulating tumor cells (CTCs), circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), exosomes

Received: February 09, 2017    Accepted: March 28, 2017    Published: April 18, 2017


Colorectal cancer (CRC) has been the fourth leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide. Owing to clonal evolution and selection, CRC treatment needs multimodal therapeutic approaches and due monitoring of tumor progression and therapeutic efficacy. Liquid biopsy, involving the use of circulating tumor cells (CTCs), circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), and exosomes, may offer a promising noninvasive alternative for diagnosis and for real-time monitoring of tumor evolution and therapeutic response compared to traditional tissue biopsy. Monitoring of the disease processes can enable clinicians to readily adopt a strategy based on optimal therapeutic decision-making. This article provides an overview of the significant advances and the current clinical and biological significance of CTCs, ctDNA, and exosomes in CRC, as well as a comparison of the main merits and demerits of these three components. The hurdles that need to be resolved and potential directions to be followed with respect to liquid biopsies for detection and therapy of CRC are also discussed.

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