1 Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Department of Internal Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23298, USA.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most common malignant tumors worldwide and is associated with high mortality. The currently used methods for diagnosing HCC, including imaging modalities and liver biopsy, detect tumors at a relatively advanced stage or are invasive. Non-invasive biomarkers are urgently needed to facilitate screening and early diagnosis of HCC, as well as treatment monitoring and detection of tumor recurrence. Liquid biopsy, the analysis of blood or other body fluids to obtain genetic and epigenetic information, has historically been applied to other types of cancer including breast and prostate cancer. Over the past few decades, liquid biopsy analysis has shed significant insights on genetic and epigenetic aberrations in HCC detectable in peripheral blood. Aberrations in nucleic acids found circulating freely in body fluids or contained within extracellular vesicles such as exosomes or microvesicles show potential clinical utility as non-invasive biomarkers. In this review, we present available literature on cell-free nucleic acids in the diagnosis of HCC.