Healthy individuals have soluble (extracellular) DNA in their blood, and increased amounts are present in cancer patients. Here we report the detection of specific sequences of the cystic fibrosis and K-ras genes in plasma DNA from normal donors by amplification with the polymerase chain reaction. In addition, mutated K-ras sequences are identified by polymerase chain reaction utilizing allele-specific primers in the plasma or serum from three patients with pancreatic carcinoma that contain mutated K-ras genes. The mutations are confirmed by direct sequencing. These results indicate that sequences of single-copy genes can be identified in normal plasma and that the sequences of mutated oncogenes can be detected and identified with allele-specific amplification by polymerase chain reaction in plasma or serum from patients with malignant tumors containing identical mutated genes. Mutated oncogenes in plasma and serum may represent tumor markers that could be useful for diagnosis, determining response to treatment, and predicting prognosis.