Purpose:

The objective of the study was to evaluate the use of tumor content in circulating cell-free DNA (ccfDNA) for monitoring hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) throughout its natural history.

Experimental Design:

We included 67 patients with hepatitis B virus–related HCC, of whom 17 had paired pre- and posttreatment samples, and 90 controls. Additionally, in a prospective cohort with hepatitis B virus surface antigen–positive participants recruited in 2012 and followed up biannually with blood sample collections until 2019, we included 270 repeated samples before diagnosis from 63 participants who later developed HCC (pre-HCC samples). Shallow whole-genome sequencing and the ichorCNA method were used to analyze genome-wide copy number and tumor content in ccfDNA.

Results:

High tumor content was associated with advanced tumor stage (P < 0.001) and poor survival after HCC diagnosis [HR = 12.35; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.413–107.9; P = 0.023]. Tumor content turned negative after surgery (P = 0.027), whereas it remained positive after transarterial chemoembolization treatment (P = 0.578). In non-HCC samples, the mean tumor content (±SD) was 0.011 (±0.007) and had a specificity of 97.8% (95% CI = 92.2%–99.7%). In pre-HCC samples, the tumor content increased from 0.014 at 4 years before diagnosis to 0.026 at 1 year before diagnosis. The sensitivity of tumor content in detecting HCC increased from 22.7% (95% CI = 11.5%–37.8%) within 1 year before diagnosis to 30.4% (95% CI = 13.2%–52.9%) at the Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) stage 0/A, 81.8% (95% CI = 59.7%–94.8%) at stage B, and 95.5% (95% CI = 77.2%–99.9%) at stage C.

Conclusions:

The tumor content in ccfDNA is correlated with tumor burden and may help in monitoring HCC 1 yearearlier than clinical diagnosis and in predicting patient prognosis.

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