Assessing Circulating Tumour DNA (ctDNA) as a Biomarker for Anal Cancer Management: A Systematic Review

Int J Mol Sci. 2024 Apr 3;25(7):4005. doi: 10.3390/ijms25074005.


This systematic review investigates the potential of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) as a predictive biomarker in the management and prognosis of squamous cell carcinoma of the anal canal (SCCA). PubMed, EMBASE, and Cochrane Central Registry of Controlled Trials were searched until 7 January 2024. Selection criteria included research articles exploring ctDNA in the context of anal cancer treatment response, recurrence risk assessment, and consideration of salvage surgery. A total of eight studies were therefore included in the final review, examining a total of 628 patients. These studies focused on three main themes: SCCA diagnosis and staging, treatment response, and patient outcomes. Significant heterogeneity was observed in terms of patient cohort, study methodology, and ctDNA biomarkers. Four studies provided information on the sensitivity of ctDNA biomarkers in SCCA, with a range of 82-100%. Seven studies noted a correlation between pre-treatment ctDNA levels and SCCA disease burden, suggesting that ctDNA could play a role as a biomarker for the staging of SCCA. Across all seven studies with paired pre- and post-treatment ctDNA samples, a trend was seen towards decreasing ctDNA levels post-treatment, with specific identification of a 'fast elimination' group who achieve undetectable ctDNA levels prior to the end of treatment and may be less likely to experience treatment failure. Residual ctDNA detection post-treatment was associated with poorer patient prognosis. This systematic review identifies the broad potential of ctDNA as a useful and decisive tool in the management of SCCA. Further analysis of ctDNA biomarkers that include larger patient cohorts is required in order to clearly evaluate their potential role in clinical decision-making processes.

Keywords: anal cancer; ctDNA; salvage surgery; surgical oncology; translational oncology.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anus Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Anus Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Anus Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Biomarkers
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / therapy
  • Circulating Tumor DNA* / genetics
  • Humans


  • Circulating Tumor DNA
  • Biomarkers

Supplementary concepts

  • Anal Canal Carcinoma