Heterogeneity and tumor evolution reflected in liquid biopsy in metastatic breast cancer patients: a review

Stephanie Kavan*, Torben A. Kruse, Marianne Vogsen, Malene G. Hildebrandt, Mads Thomassen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Breast cancer is a spatially and temporally dynamic disease in which differently evolving genetic clones are responsible for progression and clinical outcome. We review tumor heterogeneity and clonal evolution from studies comparing primary tumors and metastasis and discuss plasma circulating tumor DNA as a powerful real-time approach for monitoring the clonal landscape of breast cancer during treatment and recurrence. We found only a few early studies exploring clonal evolution and heterogeneity through analysis of multiregional tissue biopsies of different progression steps in comparison with circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) from blood plasma. The model of linear progression seemed to be more often reported than the model of parallel progression. The results show complex routes to metastasis, however, and plasma most often reflected metastasis more than primary tumor. The described patterns of evolution and the polyclonal nature of breast cancer have clinical consequences and should be considered during patient diagnosis and treatment selection. Current studies focusing on the relevance of clonal evolution in the clinical setting illustrate the role of liquid biopsy as a noninvasive biomarker for monitoring clonal progression and response to treatment. In the clinical setting, circulating tumor DNA may be an ideal support for tumor biopsies to characterize the genetic landscape of the metastatic disease and to improve longitudinal monitoring of disease dynamics and treatment effectiveness through detection of residual tumor after resection, relapse, or metastasis within a particular patient.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCancer and Metastasis Reviews
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)433-446
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • Breast cancer
  • Clonal evolution
  • ctDNA
  • Liquid biopsy
  • Tumor heterogeneity
  • Liquid Biopsy
  • Circulating Tumor DNA/genetics
  • Humans
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating/pathology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor/genetics
  • DNA, Neoplasm/genetics
  • Female
  • Breast Neoplasms/genetics


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