Genetic characterisation of molecular targets in carcinoma of unknown primary

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Background: Carcinoma of unknown primary (CUP) is a metastatic epithelial malignancy in the absence of an identifiable primary tumour. Prognosis for patients with CUP is poor because treatment options are generally limited to broad spectrum chemotherapy. A shift towards personalised cancer management based on mutation profiling offers the possibility of new treatment paradigms. This study has explored whether actionable, oncogenic driver mutations are present in CUP that have potential to better inform treatment decisions. Methods: Carcinoma of unknown primary cases (n = 21) were selected and DNA was isolated from formalin-fixed paraffin embedded sections prior to amplification and sequencing. Two distinct yet complementary targeted gene panels were used to assess variants in up to 76 known cancer-related genes for the identification of biologically relevant and actionable mutations. Results: Variants were detected in 17/21 cases (81%) of which 11 (52%) were potentially actionable with drugs currently approved for use in known primary cancer types or undergoing clinical trials. The most common variants detected were in TP53 (47%), KRAS (12%), MET (12%) and MYC (12%). Differences at the molecular level were seen between common CUP histological subtypes. CUP adenocarcinomas and poorly differentiated carcinomas harboured the highest frequency of variants in genes involved in signal transduction pathways (e.g. MET, EGFR, HRAS, KRAS, and BRAF). In contrast, squamous cell carcinoma exhibited a higher frequency of variants in cell cycle control and DNA repair genes (e.g. TP53, CDKN2A and MLH1). Conclusion: Taken together, mutations in biologically relevant genes were detected in the vast majority of CUP tumours, of which half provided a potentially novel treatment option not generally considered in CUP.

Original languageEnglish
Article number185
JournalJournal of Translational Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2018


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