Clinical and pathological features associated with circulating tumor DNA content in real-world patients with metastatic prostate cancer

Prostate. 2022 May;82(7):867-875. doi: 10.1002/pros.24331. Epub 2022 Mar 14.


Background: Liquid biopsy is a powerful tool that can enable treatment decisions for metastatic prostate cancer patients with difficult-to-biopsy tumors. However, the detection of genomic alterations via liquid biopsy is limited by the fraction (tumor fraction [TF]) of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) within the total cell-free DNA content. While prior work has preliminarily correlated TF with clinical features of prostate cancer, we sought to validate and provide additional resolution, such that a clinical practitioner might anticipate the probability of successful liquid biopsy profiling leveraging commonly assessed clinical and laboratory features.

Methods: A total of 813 liquid biopsy specimens were assessable, with 545 associated with a PSA prostate specific antigen measurement, collected in standard-of-care settings across approximately 280 US academic or community-based cancer clinics from September 2018 to July 2021. Deidentified data were captured into a real-world clinico-genomic database (CGDB). Comprehensive genomic profiling (CGP) was performed on extracted cell-free DNA from liquid biopsy samples.

Results: In multivariable models, higher PSA level, lower hemoglobin, lower albumin, higher alkaline phosphatase (all p < 0.001), and collection of liquid biopsy blood draw within 60 days of new treatment initiation (p = 0.002) were the most strongly associated features with higher TF. At PSA levels of <5 ng/ml, 43% of patients had a TF of <1% indicating an increased likelihood of unevaluable results. Conversely, at PSA levels of >5 ng/ml, 78% of patients had a TF of at least 1% and 46% had a TF of ≥10%, suggesting improved sensitivity for detection of targetable alterations.

Conclusions: Universal genomic profiling of prostate cancers will require complementary use of liquid biopsy and tumor tissue profiling for suitable patients. The likelihood of adequate ctDNA shedding into plasma is one consideration when deciding whether to pursue CGP via liquid biopsy versus tumor profiling. Our real-world data suggest that PSA < 5 ng/ml is associated with lower ctDNA yield on liquid biopsy, potentially increasing the incidence of negative results or a need for confirmation with tissue testing.

Keywords: ctDNA; genomic profiling; liquid biopsy; mCRPC; tumor fraction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Circulating Tumor DNA* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / genetics
  • Prostatic Neoplasms* / genetics


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Circulating Tumor DNA
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen