Genetic variation has been found in cancers, including lung cancer, kidney cancer, and some types of leukemia. When researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center looked at different areas within an individual rectal cancer sample, they observed cases in which each area contained different genetic mutations. The findings could have significant implications for treatment recommendations.
Researchers used next-generation sequencing techniques to sample the genetic landscape of different geographic areas from tissue samples taken from six patients with rectal cancer. They found that different regions of a single tumor shared as much as 93% of genetic mutations and as little as 67%.
Lead study author Dr. Karin Hardiman, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School, said, "Our paper shows that individual parts of a tumor are different. Some tumors have a lot of variation and some don't. This is the first time anyone has shown this in rectal cancer."
Hardiman said, "When medical oncologists make decisions about targeted chemotherapy, they typically base that off the results of a single biopsy. If they're testing only one biopsy, it may or may not reflect what's in the rest of the tumor."
The study authors hypothesize that the differences within a tumor might make the cancer more likely to resist targeted therapies. They are studying patient biopsy samples and mouse models to understand why there is variation within a tumor and why that variation is not present in all tumors.
Mouse models of rectal cancer will also allow the researchers to understand whether certain therapies or combinations of therapies can make a tumor more or less likely to respond.
Results of the study appear in Laboratory Investigation.