Advances in biomarker discovery using circulating cell-free DNA for early detection of hepatocellular carcinoma

Mingjun Liu, Zhou Zhang, Wei Zhang*, Song Mei Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The past several decades have witnessed unprecedented progress in basic and clinical cancer research, and our understanding of the molecular mechanisms and pathogenesis of cancers have been greatly improved. More recently, with the availability of high-throughput sequencing and profiling platforms as well as sophisticated analytical tools and high-performance computing capacity, there have been tremendous advances in the development of diagnostic approaches in clinical oncology, especially the discovery of novel biomarkers for cancer early detection. Although tissue biopsy-based pathology has been the “gold standard” for cancer diagnosis, notable limitations such as the risk due to invasiveness and the bias due to intra-tumoral heterogeneity have limited its broader applications in oncology (e.g., screening, regular disease monitoring). Liquid biopsy analysis that exploits the genetic and epigenetic information contained in DNA/RNA materials from body fluids, particularly circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA) in the blood, has been an intriguing alternative approach because of advantageous features such as sampling convenience and minimal invasiveness. Taking advantage of innovative enabling technologies, cfDNA has been demonstrated for its clinical potential in cancer early detection, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common liver cancer that causes serious healthcare burden globally. Hereby, we reviewed the current advances in cfDNA-based approaches for cancer biomarker discovery, with a focus on recent findings of cfDNA-based early detection of HCC. Future clinical investigations and trials are warranted to further validate these approaches for early detection of HCC, which will contribute to more effective prevention, control, and intervention strategies with the ultimate goal of reducing HCC-associated mortality. This article is categorized under: Cancer > Genetics/Genomics/Epigenetics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1598
JournalWIREs mechanisms of disease
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2023


  • biomarker
  • cell-free DNA
  • diagnosis
  • hepatocellular carcinoma
  • liquid biopsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Cell Biology


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