journal.pmed.1002204.pdf (4.37 MB)

The subclonal architecture of metastatic breast cancer: results from a prospective community-based rapid autopsy program "CASCADE"

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journal contribution
posted on 01.10.2020 by Peter Savas, Zhi Ling Teo, Christophe Lefevre, Christoffer Flensburg, Franco Caramia, Kathryn Alsop, Mariam Mansour, Prudence A Francis, Heather A Thorne, Maria Joao Silva, Nnennaya Kanu, Michelle Dietzen, Andrew Rowan, Maik Kschischo, Stephen Fox, David D Bowtell, Sarah-Jane Dawson, Terence P Speed, Charles Swanton, Sherene Loi
BACKGROUND: Understanding the cancer genome is seen as a key step in improving outcomes for cancer patients. Genomic assays are emerging as a possible avenue to personalised medicine in breast cancer. However, evolution of the cancer genome during the natural history of breast cancer is largely unknown, as is the profile of disease at death. We sought to study in detail these aspects of advanced breast cancers that have resulted in lethal disease. METHODS AND FINDINGS: Three patients with oestrogen-receptor (ER)-positive, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-negative breast cancer and one patient with triple negative breast cancer underwent rapid autopsy as part of an institutional prospective community-based rapid autopsy program (CASCADE). Cases represented a range of management problems in breast cancer, including late relapse after early stage disease, de novo metastatic disease, discordant disease response, and disease refractory to treatment. Between 5 and 12 metastatic sites were collected at autopsy together with available primary tumours and longitudinal metastatic biopsies taken during life. Samples underwent paired tumour-normal whole exome sequencing and single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) arrays. Subclonal architectures were inferred by jointly analysing all samples from each patient. Mutations were validated using high depth amplicon sequencing. Between cases, there were significant differences in mutational burden, driver mutations, mutational processes, and copy number variation. Within each case, we found dramatic heterogeneity in subclonal structure from primary to metastatic disease and between metastatic sites, such that no single lesion captured the breadth of disease. Metastatic cross-seeding was found in each case, and treatment drove subclonal diversification. Subclones displayed parallel evolution of treatment resistance in some cases and apparent augmentation of key oncogenic drivers as an alternative resistance mechanism. We also observed the role of mutational processes in subclonal evolution. Limitations of this study include the potential for bias introduced by joint analysis of formalin-fixed archival specimens with fresh specimens and the difficulties in resolving subclones with whole exome sequencing. Other alterations that could define subclones such as structural variants or epigenetic modifications were not assessed. CONCLUSIONS: This study highlights various mechanisms that shape the genome of metastatic breast cancer and the value of studying advanced disease in detail. Treatment drives significant genomic heterogeneity in breast cancers which has implications for disease monitoring and treatment selection in the personalised medicine paradigm.