Early Detection of Metastatic Relapse and Monitoring of Therapeutic Efficacy by Ultra-Deep Sequencing of Plasma Cell-Free DNA in Patients With Urothelial Bladder Carcinoma

J Clin Oncol. 2019 Jun 20;37(18):1547-1557. doi: 10.1200/JCO.18.02052. Epub 2019 May 6.


Purpose: Novel sensitive methods for early detection of relapse and for monitoring therapeutic efficacy may have a huge impact on risk stratification, treatment, and ultimately outcome for patients with bladder cancer. We addressed the prognostic and predictive impact of ultra-deep sequencing of cell-free DNA in patients before and after cystectomy and during chemotherapy.

Patients and methods: We included 68 patients with localized advanced bladder cancer. Patient-specific somatic mutations, identified by whole-exome sequencing, were used to assess circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) by ultra-deep sequencing (median, 105,000×) of plasma DNA. Plasma samples (n = 656) were procured at diagnosis, during chemotherapy, before cystectomy, and during surveillance. Expression profiling was performed for tumor subtype and immune signature analyses.

Results: Presence of ctDNA was highly prognostic at diagnosis before chemotherapy (hazard ratio, 29.1; P = .001). After cystectomy, ctDNA analysis correctly identified all patients with metastatic relapse during disease monitoring (100% sensitivity, 98% specificity). A median lead time over radiographic imaging of 96 days was observed. In addition, for high-risk patients (ctDNA positive before or during treatment), the dynamics of ctDNA during chemotherapy was associated with disease recurrence (P = .023), whereas pathologic downstaging was not. Analysis of tumor-centric biomarkers showed that mutational processes (signature 5) were associated with pathologic downstaging (P = .024); however, no significant correlation for tumor subtypes, DNA damage response mutations, and other biomarkers was observed. Our results suggest that ctDNA analysis is better associated with treatment efficacy compared with other available methods.

Conclusion: ctDNA assessment for early risk stratification, therapy monitoring, and early relapse detection in bladder cancer is feasible and provides a basis for clinical studies that evaluate early therapeutic interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids / blood*
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Prognosis
  • Recurrence
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / pathology


  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids