Cell-free DNA in healthy individuals, noncancerous disease and strong prognostic value in colorectal cancer

Int J Cancer. 2014 Dec 15;135(12):2984-91. doi: 10.1002/ijc.28946. Epub 2014 Jun 17.


The purpose was to investigate total cell-free DNA (cfDNA) in colorectal cancer (CRC) patients during treatment with second-line chemotherapy and in healthy controls and patients with different comorbidities. Patient treated with second-line irinotecan for metastatic CRC (n = 100), a cohort of healthy controls with and without comorbidity (n = 70 and 100, respectively) were included. cfDNA was quantified by an in-house developed quantitative polymerase chain reaction from plasma samples drawn prior to the first cycle of chemotherapy and at time of progression. cfDNA levels were significantly higher in CRC compared to controls, with a clear capability for discriminating between the groups (receiver operation curve analysis; area under the curve 0.82, p < 0.0001). Patients with high levels had a shorter survival from irinotecan compared to those with lover levels. The cohort independent upper normal limit divided patients into high and low risk groups. The progression-free survival (PFS) was 2.1 months [95% confidence interval (CI) 2.0-3.4] and 6.5 (95% CI 4.2-7.2) months [hazard ratio (HR) 2.53; 95% CI 1.57-4.06, p < 0.0001] and overall survival (OS) 7.4 months (95% CI 4.3-8.7) and 13.8 months (95% CI 11.9-18.9; HR 2.52; 95% CI 1.54-4.13, p < 0.0000), respectively. Cox regression multivariate analysis showed a PFS HR of 1.4 (95% CI 1.1-1.7) for each increase in cfDNA quartile, p = 0.03 and 1.6 (1.3-2.0) for OS, p < 0.0001, respectively. A combined marker analysis with plasma KRAS mutations added further prognostic impact, which was consistent when performed on the samples drawn at time of progression. In conclusion, cfDNA measurement holds important clinical information and could become a useful tool for prediction of outcome from chemotherapy in mCRC.

Keywords: cfDNA; irinotecan; metastatic colorectal cancer; plasma; prognosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • DNA / analysis*
  • Disease Progression
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Prognosis
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics
  • Risk Factors
  • ras Proteins / genetics


  • DNA
  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • ras Proteins