It has been known for decades that it is possible to detect small amounts of extracellular nucleic acids in plasma and serum of healthy and diseased human beings. The unequivocal proof that part of these circulating nucleic acids (CNAs) is of tumor origin, initiated a surge of studies which confirmed and extended the original observations. In the past few years many experiments showed that tumor-associated alterations can be detected at the DNA and RNA level. At the DNA level the detection of point mutations, microsatellite alterations, chromosomal alterations, i.e. inversion and deletion, and hypermethylation of promoter sequences were demonstrated. At the RNA level the overexpression of tumor-associated genes was shown. These observations laid the foundation for the development of assays for an early detection of cancer as well as for other clinical means.