BACKGROUND: Circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) may serve as a measure of tumour burden and a useful tool for non-invasive monitoring of cancer. However, ctDNA is not always detectable in patients at time of diagnosis of metastatic disease. Therefore, there is a need to understand the correlation between ctDNA levels and the patients' overall metabolic tumour burden (MTB).
METHODS: Thirty-two treatment naïve metastatic melanoma patients were included in the study. MTB and metabolic tumour volume (MTV) was measured by 18F-fluoro-D-glucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography (FDG PET/CT). Plasma ctDNA was quantified using droplet digital PCR (ddPCR).
RESULTS: CtDNA was detected in 23 of 32 patients. Overall, a significant correlation was observed between ctDNA levels and MTB (p < 0.001). CtDNA was not detectable in patients with an MTB of ≤10, defining this value as the lower limit of tumour burden that can be detected through ctDNA analysis by ddPCR.
CONCLUSIONS: We showed that ctDNA levels measured by ddPCR correlate with MTB in treatment naïve metastatic melanoma patients and observed a limit in tumour size for which ctDNA cannot be detected in blood. Nevertheless, our findings support the use of ctDNA as a non-invasive complementary modality to functional imaging for monitoring tumour burden.