Clinical utility of circulating tumor DNA as a response and follow-up marker in cancer therapy

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Boonstra PA, Wind TT, van Kruchten M, Schuuring E, Hospers GAP, van der Wekken AJ, de Groot DJ, Schröder CP, Fehrmann RSN, Reyners AKL

Response evaluation for cancer treatment consists primarily of clinical and radiological assessments. In addition, a limited number of serum biomarkers that assess treatment response are available for a small subset of malignancies. Through recent technological innovations, new methods for measuring tumor burden and treatment response are becoming available. By utilization of highly sensitive techniques, tumor-specific mutations in circulating DNA can be detected and circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) can be quantified. These so-called liquid biopsies provide both molecular information about the genomic composition of the tumor and opportunities to evaluate tumor response during therapy. Quantification of tumor-specific mutations in plasma correlates well with tumor burden. Moreover, with liquid biopsies, it is also possible to detect mutations causing secondary resistance during treatment. This review focuses on the clinical utility of ctDNA as a response and follow-up marker in patients with non-small cell lung cancer, melanoma, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer. Relevant studies were retrieved from a literature search using PubMed database. An overview of the available literature is provided and the relevance of ctDNA as a response marker in anti-cancer therapy for clinical practice is discussed. We conclude that the use of plasma-derived ctDNA is a promising tool for treatment decision-making based on predictive testing, detection of resistance mechanisms, and monitoring tumor response. Necessary steps for translation to daily practice and future perspectives are discussed.