"Liquid biopsy" focusing on the analysis of circulating tumor cells (CTC) and circulating cell-free tumor DNA (ctDNA) in the blood of patients with cancer has received enormous attention because of its obvious clinical implications for personalized medicine. Analyses of CTCs and ctDNA have paved new diagnostic avenues and are, to date, the cornerstones of liquid biopsy diagnostics. The present review focuses on key areas of clinical applications of CTCs and ctDNA, including detection of cancer, prediction of prognosis in patients with curable disease, monitoring systemic therapies, and stratification of patients based on the detection of therapeutic targets or resistance mechanisms.
The application of CTCs and ctDNA for the early detection of cancer is of high public interest, but it faces serious challenges regarding specificity and sensitivity of the current assays. Prediction of prognosis in patients with curable disease can already be achieved in several tumor entities, particularly in breast cancer. Monitoring the success or failure of systemic therapies (i.e., chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or other targeted therapies) by sequential measurements of CTCs or ctDNA is also feasible. Interventional studies on treatment stratification based on the analysis of CTCs and ctDNA are needed to implement liquid biopsy into personalized medicine. Cancer Discov; 6(5); 1-13. ©2016 AACR.