Plasma-first: accelerating lung cancer diagnosis and molecular profiling through liquid biopsy

Ther Adv Med Oncol. 2022 Sep 20:14:17588359221126151. doi: 10.1177/17588359221126151. eCollection 2022.


Introduction: Molecular profiling of tumor tissue is the gold standard for treatment decision-making in advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Results may be delayed or unavailable due to insufficient tissue, prolonged wait times for biopsy, pathology assessment and testing. We piloted the use of plasma testing in the initial diagnostic workup for patients with suspected advanced lung cancer.

Methods: Patients with ⩽15 pack-year smoking history and suspected advanced lung cancer referred to the lung cancer rapid diagnostic program underwent plasma circulating-tumor DNA testing using a DNA-based mutation panel. Tissue testing was performed per standard of care, including comprehensive next-generation sequencing (NGS). The primary endpoint was time from diagnostic program referral to cancer treatment in stage IV NSCLC patients (Cohort A) compared to a contemporary cohort not enrolled in the study (Cohort B) and an historical pre-COVID cohort referred to the program between 2018 and 2019 (Cohort C).

Results: From January to June 2021, 20 patients were enrolled in Cohort A; median age was 70.5 years (range 33-87), 70% were female, 55% Caucasian, 85% never smokers, and 75% were diagnosed with NSCLC. Seven had actionable alterations detected in plasma or tissue (4/7 concordant). Fusions, not tested in plasma, were identified by immunohistochemistry for three patients. Mean result turnaround time was 17.8 days for plasma NGS and 23.6 days for tissue (p = 0.10). Mean time from referral to treatment initiation was significantly shorter in cohort A at 32.6 days (SD 13.1) versus 62.2 days (SD 31.2) in cohort B and 61.5 days (SD 29.1) in cohort C, both p < 0.0001.

Conclusion: Liquid biopsy in the initial diagnostic workup of patients with suspected advanced NSCLC can lead to faster molecular results and shorten time to treatment even with smaller DNA panels. An expansion study using comprehensive NGS plasma testing with faster turnaround time is ongoing (NCT04862924).

Keywords: liquid biopsy; lung cancer; plasma-first; time to treatment.