Circulating tumor-specific nucleic acids have been identified in plasma, serum, and other body fluids from cancer patients with tumors originating in almost any organ site. Polymerase chain reaction provides a highly sensitive and specific technique for the detection of these genetic changes in a limited amount of tissue/fluid. The presence of elevated levels of free DNA/RNA in many medical conditions, malignancy, and infectious processes is being investigated for screening, diagnosis, prognosis, surveillance for occult disease progression, identifying potential therapeutic targets, and monitoring treatment response. Additionally, elevated fetal DNA/RNA in maternal blood is being used to determine gender identity, assess chromosomal abnormalities, and monitor pregnancy-associated complications. Questions remain on the etiology, characteristics, stability, and potential pathologic consequences of cell-free DNA/RNA in the circulation. Nevertheless, nucleic acid-based assays that monitor plasma, serum, and body fluids provide a noninvasive, facile, and practical method for assessing patients. Proteomic profiling may prove complementary to a total functionality approach in providing a comprehensive evaluation of the patient's disease.