Circulating Tumor DNA in Precision Oncology and Its Applications in Colorectal Cancer

Maria F. Arisi, Efrat Dotan, Sandra V. Fernandez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) is a component of cell-free DNA (cfDNA) that is shed by malignant tumors into the bloodstream and other bodily fluids. ctDNA can comprise up to 10% of a patient’s cfDNA depending on their tumor type and burden. The short half-life of ctDNA ensures that its detection captures tumor burden in real-time and offers a non-invasive method of repeatedly evaluating the genomic profile of a patient’s tumor. A challenge in ctDNA detection includes clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential (CHIP), which can be distinguished from tumor variants using a paired whole-blood control. Most assays for ctDNA quantification rely on measurements of somatic variant allele frequency (VAF), which is a mutation-dependent method. Patients with certain types of solid tumors, including colorectal cancer (CRC), can have levels of cfDNA 50 times higher than healthy patients. ctDNA undergoes a precipitous drop shortly after tumor resection and therapy, and rising levels can foreshadow radiologic recurrence on the order of months. The amount of tumor bulk required for ctDNA detection is lower than that for computed tomography (CT) scan detection, with ctDNA detection preceding radiologic recurrence in many cases. cfDNA/ctDNA can be used for tumor molecular profiling to identify resistance mutations when tumor biopsy is not available, to detect minimal residual disease (MRD), to monitor therapy response, and for the detection of tumor relapse. Although ctDNA is not yet implemented in clinical practice, studies are ongoing to define the appropriate way to use it as a tool in the clinic. In this review article, we examine the general aspects of ctDNA, its status as a biomarker, and its role in the management of early (II–III) and late (IV; mCRC) stage colorectal cancer (CRC).

Original languageEnglish
Article number4441
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022


  • CHIP
  • CRC
  • MRD
  • biomarkers
  • cell-free DNA
  • circulating tumor DNA
  • clonal hematopoiesis
  • colorectal cancer
  • minimal residual disease


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