Circulating tumor DNA: a promising biomarker in the liquid biopsy of cancer

Feifei Cheng, Li Su and Cheng Qian _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:48832-48841. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.9453

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Feifei Cheng1,2, Li Su1 and Cheng Qian1

1 Institute of Pathology and Southwest Cancer Center, Southwest Hospital, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China

2 School of Life Science, Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, Hangzhou, China

Correspondence to:

Cheng Qian, email:

Keywords: liquid biopsy, circulating tumor DNA, biology, biomarker, targeted therapies

Received: November 06, 2015 Accepted: April 24, 2016 Published: May 19, 2016


Tissue biopsy is the standard diagnostic procedure for cancers and also provides a material for genotyping, which can assist in the targeted therapies of cancers. However, tissue biopsy-based cancer diagnostic procedures have limitations in their assessment of cancer development, prognosis and genotyping, due to tumor heterogeneity and evolution. Circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) is single- or double-stranded DNA released by the tumor cells into the blood and it thus harbors the mutations of the original tumor. In recent years, liquid biopsy based on ctDNA analysis has shed a new light on the molecular diagnosis and monitoring of cancer. Studies found that the screening of genetic mutations using ctDNA is highly sensitive and specific, suggesting that ctDNA analysis may significantly improve current systems of tumor diagnosis, even facilitating early-stage detection. Moreover, ctDNA analysis is capable of accurately determining the tumor progression, prognosis and assisting in targeted therapy. Therefore, using ctDNA as a liquid biopsy may herald a revolution for tumor management. Herein, we review the biology of ctDNA, its detection methods and potential applications in tumor diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.

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