The development of noninvasive methods to detect and monitor tumors continues to be a major challenge in oncology. We used digital polymerase chain reaction–based technologies to evaluate the ability of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) to detect tumors in 640 patients with various cancer types. We found that ctDNA was detectable in >75% of patients with advanced pancreatic, ovarian, colorectal, bladder, gastroesophageal, breast, melanoma, hepatocellular, and head and neck cancers, but in less than 50% of primary brain, renal, prostate, or thyroid cancers.

In patients with localized tumors, ctDNA was detected in 73, 57, 48, and 50% of patients with colorectal cancer, gastroesophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and breast adenocarcinoma, respectively. ctDNA was often present in patients without detectable circulating tumor cells, suggesting that these two biomarkers are distinct entities.

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