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Liquid biopsy of gastric cancer patients: circulating tumor cells and cell-free nucleic acids.

To improve the clinical outcomes of cancer patients, early detection and accurate monitoring of diseases are necessary. Numerous genetic and epigenetic alterations contribute to oncogenesis and cancer progression, and analyses of these changes have been increasingly utilized for diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic purposes in malignant diseases including gastric cancer (GC). Surgical and/or biopsy specimens are generally used to understand the tumor-associated alterations; however, those approaches cannot always be performed because of their invasive characteristics and may fail to reflect current tumor dynamics and drug sensitivities, which may change during the therapeutic process. Therefore, the importance of developing a non-invasive biomarker with the ability to monitor real-time tumor dynamics should be emphasized. This concept, so called "liquid biopsy", would provide an ideal therapeutic strategy for an individual cancer patient and would facilitate the development of "tailor-made" cancer management programs. In the blood of cancer patients, the presence and potent utilities of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and cell-free nucleic acids (cfNAs) such as DNA, mRNA and microRNA have been recognized, and their clinical relevance is attracting considerable attention. In this review, we discuss recent developments in this research field as well as the relevance and future perspectives of CTCs and cfNAs in cancer patients, especially focusing on GC.

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