Background: Circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) levels correlate well with tumor bulk. In this paper we aim to estimate the prognostic value of the dynamic quantification of ctDNA levels.
Materials and methods: A total of 251 serial plasma samples from 41 non-small-cell lung cancer patients who carried an activating EGFR mutation were analysed by digital PCR. For survival analysis, ctDNA levels were computed as a time-dependent covariate.
Results: Dynamic ctDNA measurements had prognostic significance (hazard ratio for overall survival and progression free survival according to p.T790M mutant allele frequency; 2.676 and 2.71 respectively; P < 0.05). In the same way, patients with p.T790M-negative or unchanging or decreasing plasma levels of sensitizing EGFR mutation were 12 and 4.8 times more likely to maintain response or stable disease, respectively, than patients in which the opposite occurred (P < 0.05).On average, the p.T790M mutation was detected in plasma 51 days before the assessment of progression disease by CT-scan. Finally, ctDNA outperformed CTCs for assessing tumor progression (P = 0.021).
Conclusions: The appearance or increase in a unit of the p.T790M allele frequency almost triples the risk of death and progression. This information can be used to design clinical trials aiming to estimate whether T790M positive patients should start second line treatment based on molecular data rather than imaging data.
Keywords: EGFR; ctDNA; non-small cell lung cancer; tyrosine kinase inhibitor.