To explore the clinical utility of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) by developing a cost-effective and rapid technique utilising targeted amplicon sequencing (TA-seq).
Summary background data:
Emerging evidence suggests that levels of ctDNA in the blood can be used to monitor treatment response and in the detection of disease recurrence in various cancer types. Current staging modalities for EAC such as computerised tomography of the chest/abdomen/pelvis (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET) do not reliably detect occult micro-metastatic disease, the presence of which signifies a poor prognosis. After curative-intent treatment, some patients are still at high risk of recurrent disease, and there is no widely accepted optimal surveillance tool for patients with EAC.
Sixty-two patients with EAC were investigated for the presence of ctDNA using a tumor-informed approach. We designed a custom TA-seq panel of target specific primers covering mutational foci in 9 of the most commonly mutated genes in EAC. Serial blood samples were taken before and after neoadjuvant treatment (NAT), and during surveillance.
Somatic mutations were detected in pre-treatment biopsy samples of 55 out of 62 (89%) EAC patients. Mutations in TP53 (80%) were the most common. Out of these 55 patients, 20 (36%) had detectable ctDNA at baseline. The majority (90%) of patients with detectable ctDNA had either locally advanced tumors, nodal involvement or metastatic disease. In patients with locally advanced tumors, disease free survival (DFS) was more accurately stratified using pre-treatment ctDNA status (HR 4.34 [95% CI 0.93 – 20.21]; p = 0.05) compared to nodal status on PET-CT. In an exploratory subgroup analysis, patients who are node negative but ctDNA positive have inferior DFS (HR 11.71 [95% CI 1.16–118.80] p = 0.04). In blood samples taken before and following NAT, clearance of ctDNA after NAT was associated with a favourable response to treatment. Furthermore, patients who are ctDNA positive during post-treatment surveillance are at high risk of relapse.
Our study shows that ctDNA has potential to provide additional prognostication over conventional staging investigation such as CT and PET. It may also have clinical utility in the assessment of response to NAT and as a biomarker for the surveillance of recurrent disease.