A Cell-free DNA Blood-Based Test for Colorectal Cancer Screening

N Engl J Med. 2024 Mar 14;390(11):973-983. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2304714.


Background: Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in adults in the United States. Early detection could prevent more than 90% of colorectal cancer-related deaths, yet more than one third of the screening-eligible population is not up to date with screening despite multiple available tests. A blood-based test has the potential to improve screening adherence, detect colorectal cancer earlier, and reduce colorectal cancer-related mortality.

Methods: We assessed the performance characteristics of a cell-free DNA (cfDNA) blood-based test in a population eligible for colorectal cancer screening. The coprimary outcomes were sensitivity for colorectal cancer and specificity for advanced neoplasia (colorectal cancer or advanced precancerous lesions) relative to screening colonoscopy. The secondary outcome was sensitivity to detect advanced precancerous lesions.

Results: The clinical validation cohort included 10,258 persons, 7861 of whom met eligibility criteria and were evaluable. A total of 83.1% of the participants with colorectal cancer detected by colonoscopy had a positive cfDNA test and 16.9% had a negative test, which indicates a sensitivity of the cfDNA test for detection of colorectal cancer of 83.1% (95% confidence interval [CI], 72.2 to 90.3). Sensitivity for stage I, II, or III colorectal cancer was 87.5% (95% CI, 75.3 to 94.1), and sensitivity for advanced precancerous lesions was 13.2% (95% CI, 11.3 to 15.3). A total of 89.6% of the participants without any advanced colorectal neoplasia (colorectal cancer or advanced precancerous lesions) identified on colonoscopy had a negative cfDNA blood-based test, whereas 10.4% had a positive cfDNA blood-based test, which indicates a specificity for any advanced neoplasia of 89.6% (95% CI, 88.8 to 90.3). Specificity for negative colonoscopy (no colorectal cancer, advanced precancerous lesions, or nonadvanced precancerous lesions) was 89.9% (95% CI, 89.0 to 90.7).

Conclusions: In an average-risk screening population, this cfDNA blood-based test had 83% sensitivity for colorectal cancer, 90% specificity for advanced neoplasia, and 13% sensitivity for advanced precancerous lesions. (Funded by Guardant Health; ECLIPSE ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT04136002.).

Publication types

  • Clinical Study
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids* / blood
  • Colonoscopy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / blood
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Early Detection of Cancer* / methods
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening* / methods
  • Precancerous Conditions* / blood
  • Precancerous Conditions* / diagnosis
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT04136002