Circulating DNA in diagnosis and monitoring EGFR gene mutations in advanced non-small cell lung cancer

Transl Lung Cancer Res. 2015 Oct;4(5):584-97. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2218-6751.2015.08.09.


Epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors (EGFR-TKIs) are current treatments for advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) harboring activating EGFR gene mutations. Histological or cytological samples are the standard tumor materials for EGFR mutation analysis. However, the accessibility of tumor samples is not always possible and satisfactory in advanced NSCLC patients. Moreover, totality of EGFR mutated NSCLC patients will develop resistance to EGFR-TKIs. Repeat biopsies to study genetic evolution as a result of therapy are difficult, invasive and may be confounded by intra-tumor heterogeneity. Thus, exploring accurate and less invasive techniques to (I) diagnosis EGFR mutation if tissue is not available or not appropriate for molecular analysis and to (II) monitor EGFR-TKI treatment are needed. Circulating DNA fragments carrying tumor specific sequence alterations [circulating cell-free tumor DNA (cftDNA)] are found in the cell-free fraction of blood, representing a variable and generally small fraction of the total circulating DNA. cftDNA has a high degree of specificity to detect EGFR gene mutations in NSCLC. Studies have shown the feasibility of using cftDNA to diagnosis of EGFR activating gene mutations and also to monitor tumor dynamics in NSCLC patients treated with EGFR-TKIs. These evidences suggested that non-invasive techniques based on blood samples had a great potential in EGFR mutated NSCLC patients. In this review, we summarized these non-invasive approaches and relative scientific data now available, considering their possible applications in clinical practice of NSCLC treatment.

Keywords: Circulating DNA; epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR); non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC); tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI)-resistance.

Publication types

  • Review