Plasma Circulating Tumor DNA and Clonal Hematopoiesis in Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma

Clin Genitourin Cancer. 2020 Aug;18(4):322-331.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.clgc.2019.12.018. Epub 2020 Jan 8.


Background: There is a lack of molecularly-informed biomarkers for patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Plasma cell-free DNA (cfDNA) sequencing is a minimally-invasive alternative to tissue for profiling the genome in other cancers but relevance in metastatic RCC remains unclear.

Materials and methods: Whole blood was collected from 55 patients with metastatic RCC. Plasma cfDNA and leukocyte DNA were subjected to targeted sequencing across 981 cancer genes. Matched tumor tissue from 14 patients was analyzed.

Results: Thirty-three percent of patients had evidence for RCC-derived circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), significantly lower than patients with metastatic prostate or bladder cancer analyzed using the same approach. Among ctDNA-positive patients, ctDNA fraction averaged only 3.9% and showed no strong association with clinical variables. In these patients, the most commonly mutated genes were VHL, BAP1, and PBRM1, and matched tissue concordance was 77%. Evidence of somatic expansions unrelated to RCC, such as clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential, were detected in 43% of patients. Pathogenic germline mutations in DNA repair genes were detected in 11% of patients. CtDNA-positive patients had shorter overall survival and progression-free survival on first-line therapy. Patients with evidence of clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential had an intermediate prognosis compared with ctDNA-positive and -negative patients.

Conclusions: CfDNA sequencing enables straightforward characterization of the somatic RCC genome in a minority of patients with metastatic RCC. Owing to low ctDNA abundance, and the presence of non-RCC derived somatic clones in circulation, cfDNA sequencing may not be a simple pan-patient alternative to tissue biopsy in metastatic RCC.

Keywords: Cancer genomics; Kidney cancer; Liquid biopsy; cfDNA; ctDNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / blood
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / secondary*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Circulating Tumor DNA / blood
  • Circulating Tumor DNA / genetics*
  • Clonal Hematopoiesis*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Kidney Neoplasms / blood
  • Kidney Neoplasms / genetics
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation*
  • Prognosis
  • Survival Rate


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Circulating Tumor DNA

Grant support