Is it time to sound an alarm about false-positive cell-free DNA testing for fetal aneuploidy?

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2013 Nov;209(5):415-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2013.03.027. Epub 2013 Mar 22.


Testing cell-free DNA (cfDNA) in maternal blood samples has been shown to have very high sensitivity for the detection of fetal aneuploidy with very low false-positive results in high-risk patients who undergo invasive prenatal diagnosis. Recent observation in clinical practice of several cases of positive cfDNA tests for trisomy 18 and trisomy 13, which were not confirmed by cytogenetic testing of the pregnancy, may reflect a limitation of the positive predictive value of this quantitative testing, particularly when it is used to detect rare aneuploidies. Analysis of a larger number of false-positive cases is needed to evaluate whether these observations reflect the positive predictive value that should be expected. Infrequently, mechanisms (such as low percentage mosaicism or confined placental mosaicism) might also lead to positive cfDNA testing that is not concordant with standard prenatal cytogenetic diagnosis. The need to explore these and other possible causes of false-positive cfDNA testing is exemplified by 2 of these cases. Additional evaluation of cfDNA testing in clinical practice and a mechanism for the systematic reporting of false-positive and false-negative cases will be important before this test is offered widely to the general population of low-risk obstetric patients. In the meantime, incorporating information about the positive predictive value in pretest counseling and in clinical laboratory reports is recommended. These experiences reinforce the importance of offering invasive testing to confirm cfDNA results before parental decision-making.

Keywords: cfDNA; chromosome; fetus; positive predictive value; testing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amniocentesis
  • Aneuploidy
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 18
  • DNA / blood
  • Diagnostic Errors / prevention & control*
  • Down Syndrome / diagnosis
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Female
  • Genetic Testing*
  • Humans
  • Karyotyping
  • Maternal Serum Screening Tests*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Trisomy / diagnosis*
  • Trisomy 18 Syndrome


  • DNA