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J Clin Oncol. 2003 Nov 1;21(21):3902-8. Epub 2003 Sep 24.

Quantification of free circulating DNA as a diagnostic marker in lung cancer.

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Department of Experimental Oncology, Istituto Nazionale Tumori, Milan, Italy.



Analysis of circulating DNA in plasma can provide a useful marker for earlier lung cancer detection. This study was designed to assess the sensitivity and specificity of a quantitative molecular assay of circulating DNA to identify patients with lung cancer and monitor their disease.


The amount of plasma DNA was determined through the use of real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of the human telomerase reverse transcriptase gene (hTERT) in 100 non-small-cell lung cancer patients and 100 age-, sex-, and smoking-matched controls. Screening performance of the assay was calculated through the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve. Odds ratios were calculated using conditional logistic regression analysis.


Median concentration of circulating plasma DNA in patients was almost eight times the value detected in controls (24.3 v 3.1 ng/mL). The area under the ROC curve was 0.94 (95% CI, 0.907 to 0.973). Plasma DNA was a strong risk factor for lung cancer; concentrations in the upper tertile were associated with an 85-fold higher risk than were those in the lowest tertile.


This study shows that higher levels of free circulating DNA can be detected in patients with lung cancer compared with disease-free heavy smokers by a PCR assay, and suggests a new, noninvasive approach for early detection of lung cancer. Levels of plasma DNA could also identify higher-risk individuals for lung cancer screening and chemoprevention trials.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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