Heterogeneity within and among tumors in a metastatic cancer patient is a well-established phenomenon that may confound treatment and accurate prognosis. Here, we used whole-exome sequencing to survey metastatic breast cancer tumors from 5 patients in a rapid autopsy program to construct the origin and genetic development of metastases. Metastases were obtained from 5 breast cancer patients using a rapid autopsy protocol and subjected to whole-exome sequencing. Metastases were evaluated for sharing of somatic mutations, correlation of copy number variation and loss of heterozygosity, and genetic similarity scores. Pathological features of the patients’ disease were assessed by immunohistochemical analyses. Our data support a monoclonal origin of metastasis in 3 cases, but in 2 cases, metastases arose from at least 2 distinct subclones in the primary tumor. In the latter 2 cases, the primary tumor presented with mixed histologic and pathologic features, suggesting early divergent evolution within the primary tumor with maintenance of metastatic capability in multiple lineages. We used genetic and histopathological evidence to demonstrate that metastases can be derived from a single or multiple independent clones within a primary tumor. This underscores the complexity of breast cancer clonal evolution and has implications for how best to determine and implement therapies for early- and late-stage disease.


Bracha Erlanger Avigdor, Ashley Cimino-Mathews, Angelo M. DeMarzo, Jessica L. Hicks, James Shin, Saraswati Sukumar, John Fetting, Pedram Argani, Ben H. Park, Sarah J. Wheelan


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