Postoperative circulating tumor DNA as markers of recurrence risk in stages II to III colorectal cancer

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Background: Precise methods for postoperative risk stratification to guide the administration of adjuvant chemotherapy (ACT) in localized colorectal cancer (CRC) are still lacking. Here, we conducted a prospective, observational, and multicenter study to investigate the utility of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in predicting the recurrence risk. Methods: From September 2017 to March 2020, 276 patients with stage II/III CRC were prospectively recruited in this study and 240 evaluable patients were retained for analysis, of which 1290 serial plasma samples were collected. Somatic variants in both the primary tumor and plasma were detected via a targeted sequencing panel of 425 cancer-related genes. Patients were treated and followed up per standard of care. Results: Preoperatively, ctDNA was detectable in 154 of 240 patients (64.2%). At day 3–7 postoperation, ctDNA positivity was associated with remarkably high recurrence risk (hazard ratio [HR], 10.98; 95%CI, 5.31–22.72; P < 0.001). ctDNA clearance and recurrence-free status was achieved in 5 out of 17 ctDNA-positive patients who were subjected to ACT. Likewise, at the first sampling point after ACT, ctDNA-positive patients were 12 times more likely to experience recurrence (HR, 12.76; 95%CI, 5.39–30.19; P < 0.001). During surveillance after definitive therapy, ctDNA positivity was also associated with extremely high recurrence risk (HR, 32.02; 95%CI, 10.79–95.08; P < 0.001). In all multivariate analyses, ctDNA positivity remained the most significant and independent predictor of recurrence-free survival after adjusting for known clinicopathological risk factors. Serial ctDNA analyses identified recurrence with an overall accuracy of 92.0% and could detect disease recurrence ahead of radiological imaging with a mean lead time of 5.01 months. Conclusions: Postoperative serial ctDNA detection predicted high relapse risk and identified disease recurrence ahead of radiological imaging in patients with stage II/III CRC. ctDNA may be used to guide the decision-making in postsurgical management.




Chen, G., Peng, J., Xiao, Q., Wu, H. X., Wu, X., Wang, F., … Xu, R. H. (2021). Postoperative circulating tumor DNA as markers of recurrence risk in stages II to III colorectal cancer. Journal of Hematology and Oncology, 14(1).

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