Clinical Utility of Analyzing Circulating Tumor DNA in Patients with Metastatic Colorectal Cancer

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AbstractMultiple genomic changes caused by clonal evolution induced by therapeutic pressure and corresponding intratumoral heterogeneity have posed great challenges for personalized therapy against metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) in the past decade. Liquid biopsy has emerged as an excellent molecular diagnostic tool for assessing predominant spatial and temporal intratumoral heterogeneity with minimal invasiveness.Previous studies have revealed that genomic alterations in RAS, BRAF, ERBB2, and MET, as well as other cancer‐related genes associated with resistance to anti‐epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) therapy, can be analyzed with high diagnostic accuracy by circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) analysis. Furthermore, by longitudinally monitoring ctDNAs during anti‐EGFR therapy, the emergence of genomic alterations can be detected as acquired resistance mechanisms in specific genes, mainly those associated with the mitogen‐activated protein kinase signaling pathway. Analysis of ctDNA can also identify predictive biomarkers to immune checkpoint inhibitors, such as mutations in mismatch repair genes, microsatellite instability‐high phenotype, and tumor mutation burden. Some prospective clinical trials evaluating targeted agents for genomic alterations in ctDNA or exploring resistance biomarkers by monitoring of ctDNA are ongoing.To determine the value of ctDNA analysis for decision‐making by more accurate molecular marker‐based selection of patients and identification of resistance mechanisms to targeted therapies or sensitive biomarkers for immune checkpoint inhibitors, clinical trials must be refined to evaluate the efficacy of study treatment in patients with targetable genomic alterations confirmed by ctDNA analysis, and resistance biomarkers should be explored by monitoring ctDNA in large‐scale clinical trials. In the near future, ctDNA analysis will play an important role in precision medicine for mCRC.Implications for Practice.Treatment strategies for metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) are determined according to the molecular profile, which is confirmed by analyzing tumor tissue. Analysis of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) may overcome the limitations of tissue‐based analysis by capturing spatial and temporal intratumoral heterogeneity of mCRC. Clinical trials must be refined to test the value of ctDNA analysis in patient selection and identification of biomarkers. This review describes ctDNA analysis, which will have an important role in precision medicine for mCRC.

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