A prospective study of total plasma cell-free DNA as a predictive biomarker for response to systemic therapy in patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancers

Ann Oncol. 2016 Jan;27(1):154-9. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdv498. Epub 2015 Oct 20.


Background: While previous studies have reported on the prognostic value of total plasma cell-free deoxyribonucleic acid (cfDNA) in lung cancers, few have prospectively evaluated its predictive value for systemic therapy response.

Patients and methods: We conducted a prospective study to evaluate the association between changes in total cfDNA and radiologic response to systemic therapy in patients with stage IIIB/IV non-small-cell lung cancers (NSCLCs). Paired blood collections for cfDNA and computed tomography (CT) assessments by RECIST v1.0 were performed at baseline and 6-12 weeks after therapy initiation. Total cfDNA levels were measured in plasma using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction. Associations between changes in cfDNA and radiologic response, progression-free survival (PFS), and overall survival (OS) were measured using Kruskal-Wallis and Kaplan-Meier estimates.

Results: A total of 103 patients completed paired cfDNA and CT response assessments. Systemic therapy administered included cytotoxic chemotherapy in 57% (59/103), molecularly targeted therapy in 17% (17/103), and combination therapy in 26% (27/103). Median change in cfDNA from baseline to response assessment did not significantly differ by radiologic response categories of progression of disease, stable disease and partial response (P = 0.10). However, using radiologic response as continuous variable, there was a weak positive correlation between change in radiologic response and change in cfDNA (Spearman's correlation coefficient 0.21, P = 0.03). Baseline cfDNA levels were not associated with PFS [hazard ratio (HR) = 1.06, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.93-1.20, P = 0.41] or OS (HR = 1.04, 95% CI 0.93-1.17, P = 0.51), neither were changes in cfDNA.

Conclusions: In this large prospective study, changes in total cfDNA over time did not significantly predict radiologic response from systemic therapy in patients with advanced NSCLC. Pretreatment levels of total cfDNA were not prognostic of survival. Total cfDNA level is not a highly specific predictive biomarker and future investigations in cfDNA should focus on tumor-specific genomic alterations using expanded capabilities of next-generation sequencing.

Keywords: biomarker; chemotherapy; non-small-cell lung cancer; plasma cell-free DNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / blood*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / mortality
  • DNA, Neoplasm / blood*
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Lung Neoplasms / blood*
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiography
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • DNA, Neoplasm