Genomic heterogeneity and copy number variant burden are associated with poor recurrence-free survival and 11q loss in human papillomavirus-positive squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx

Travis P Schrank, Nicholas Lenze, Lee P Landess, Alan Hoyle, Joel Parker, Asim Lal, Siddharth Sheth, Bhishamjit S Chera, Samip N Patel, Trevor G Hackman, M Ben Major, Natalia Issaeva, Wendell G Yarbrough
Cancer 2021 April 5

BACKGROUND: Human papillomavirus-positive (HPV+) squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx (OPSCC) is the most prevalent HPV-associated malignancy in the United States. Favorable treatment outcomes have led to increased interest in treatment de-escalation to reduce treatment morbidity as well as the development of prognostic markers to identify appropriately low-risk patients. Intratumoral genomic heterogeneity and copy number alteration burden have been demonstrated to be predictive of poor outcomes in many other cancers; therefore, we sought to determine whether intratumor heterogeneity and genomic instability are associated with poor outcomes in HPV+ OPSCC.

METHODS: Tumor heterogeneity estimates were made based on targeted exome sequencing of 45 patients with HPV+ OPSCC tumors. Analysis of an additional cohort of HPV+ OPSCC tumors lacking matched normal sequencing allowed copy number analysis of 99 patient tumors.

RESULTS: High intratumorally genomic heterogeneity and high numbers of copy number alterations were strongly associated with worse recurrence-free survival. Tumors with higher heterogeneity and frequent copy number alterations were associated with loss of distal 11q, which encodes key genes related to double-strand break repair, including ATM and MRE11A.

CONCLUSIONS: Both intratumor genomic heterogeneity and high-burden copy number alterations are strongly associated with poor recurrence-free survival in patients with HPV+ OPSCC. The drivers of genomic instability and heterogeneity in these tumors remains to be elucidated. However, 11q loss and defective DNA double-strand break repair have been associated with genomic instability in other solid tumors. Copy number alteration burden and intratumoral heterogeneity represent promising avenues for risk stratification of patients with HPV+OPSCC.

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