MicroRNAs (miRNAs) belong to a class of small non-coding RNAs that regulate numerous biological processes by targeting a broad set of messenger RNAs. Recently, miRNAs have been detected in remarkably stable forms in many types of body fluids. A comparison between cancer patients and healthy individuals has clearly shown that certain types of circulating miRNAs are associated with cancer initiation and progression. Research on miRNA-based biomarkers has witnessed phenomenal growth, owing to the non-invasive nature of miRNA-based screening assays and their sensitivity and specificity in detecting cancers. Consequently, a considerable effort has been devoted to identify suitable miRNAs for cancer diagnosis and also decode the information carried by circulating miRNAs. This review highlights the current studies that focus on the identification of circulating miRNA-based diagnostic and prognostic markers, for the most prevalent types of cancer. Additionally, the review also provides an insight into the putative functions of miRNAs, and attempts to delineate the mechanisms through which they are released into the bloodstream. Moreover, methodologies and strategies for identification of circulating miRNAs in cancers are summarized. Finally, potential strategies for circulating miRNA-based cancer therapies are proposed.
Keywords: Biomarkers; Cancer diagnosis; Cancer therapy; Circulating miRNAs; Prognosis.
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