Single Cell Genetic Profiling of Tumors of Breast Cancer Patients Aged 50 Years and Older Reveals Enormous Intratumor Heterogeneity Independent of Individual Prognosis

Anna Sophie Liegmann, Kerstin Heselmeyer-Haddad, Annette Lischka, Daniela Hirsch, Wei Dong Chen, Irianna Torres, Timo Gemoll, Achim Rody, Christoph Thorns, Edward Michael Gertz, Hendrik Alkemade, Yue Hu, Jens K. Habermann*, Thomas Ried

*Corresponding author for this work
2 Citations (Scopus)


PURPOSE: Older breast cancer patients are underrepresented in cancer research even though the majority (81.4%) of women dying of breast cancer are 55 years and older. Here we study a common phenomenon observed in breast cancer which is a large inter- and intratumor heterogeneity; this poses a tremendous clinical challenge, for example with respect to treatment stratification. To further elucidate genomic instability and tumor heterogeneity in older patients, we analyzed the genetic aberration profiles of 39 breast cancer patients aged 50 years and older (median 67 years) with either short (median 2.4 years) or long survival (median 19 years). The analysis was based on copy number enumeration of eight breast cancer-associated genes using multiplex interphase fluorescence in situ hybridization (miFISH) of single cells, and by targeted next-generation sequencing of 563 cancer-related genes.

RESULTS: We detected enormous inter- and intratumor heterogeneity, yet maintenance of common cancer gene mutations and breast cancer specific chromosomal gains and losses. The gain of COX2 was most common (72%), followed by MYC (69%); losses were most prevalent for CDH1 (74%) and TP53 (69%). The degree of intratumor heterogeneity did not correlate with disease outcome. Comparing the miFISH results of diploid with aneuploid tumor samples significant differences were found: aneuploid tumors showed significantly higher average signal numbers, copy number alterations (CNAs) and instability indices. Mutations in PIKC3A were mostly restricted to luminal A tumors. Furthermore, a significant co-occurrence of CNAs of DBC2/MYC, HER2/DBC2 and HER2/TP53 and mutual exclusivity of CNAs of HER2 and PIK3CA mutations and CNAs of CCND1 and PIK3CA mutations were revealed.

CONCLUSION: Our results provide a comprehensive picture of genome instability profiles with a large variety of inter- and intratumor heterogeneity in breast cancer patients aged 50 years and older. In most cases, the distribution of chromosomal aneuploidies was consistent with previous results; however, striking exceptions, such as tumors driven by exclusive loss of chromosomes, were identified.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3366
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 05.07.2021

Research Areas and Centers

  • Research Area: Luebeck Integrated Oncology Network (LION)
  • Centers: University Cancer Center Schleswig-Holstein (UCCSH)


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