We report the clinical and molecular characteristics of a 69-year-old woman with metastatic colorectal cancer, treated with the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-targeted monoclonal antibody panitumumab, displaying peculiar molecular tumour heterogeneity at progression consisting of KRAS and MET amplification as distinct drivers associated with acquired resistance.
The patient had rectosigmoid junction adenocarcinoma, G3, KRAS (exon 2) wild type, pT3N2(5/14)M0 treated with surgery in March 2007 and then adjuvant capecitabine (Xeloda) and oxaliplatin (XELOX) chemotherapy. In April 2009 the patient had pelvic relapse and underwent presacral, paraortic and inferior mesenteric lymphadenectomy confirming metastatic colon adenocarcinoma, KRAS (exon 2), BRAF and PIK3CA wild type, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) 2+ without amplification by in situ hybridisation1 and no amplification of KRAS or MET. The patient received subsequent chemotherapy for stage IV disease with XELOX with progression and subsequently FOLFIRI. At disease progression, based on the RAS wild type status, on August 2010 the patient started treatment with panitumumab, achieving partial response which was maintained for 1 year. At that time disease progression occurred in the retroperitoneum, abdominal lymph nodes, liver and lung. Since the lymph nodes involvement caused ureteral dilation and liver involvement was limited to a single lesion in segment VII, in September 2011 the patient underwent surgery for excision of retroperitoneum and parailiac lymph nodes and atypical liver resection of segment VII. The histological diagnosis was consistent with metastases of colon adenocarcinoma in all three tumour metastatic sites.
Molecular assessment was performed on the second metastasectomy and compared to data of the previous one. Interestingly, a peculiar intratumour heterogeneity was demonstrated, as the liver metastasis was found to be MET amplified while KRAS was negative (figure 1A and see online supplementary figure S1); conversely, in the retroperitoneum KRAS was amplified while MET was negative (figure 1C and see online supplementary figure S1). Finally, in the ureteral metastatic deposit an amplification of both oncogenes was concomitantly present (figure 1B and see online supplementary figure S1). Overexpression of HER2 was not detected in any of the metastatic sites analysed (data not shown). This molecular status was different from that demonstrated in the tumour specimens of previous metastasectomy performed before treatment with EGFR-targeted therapy, where no amplification of either KRAS or MET was detected (data not shown).
We and others previously reported KRAS and MET amplifications as bona fide secondary resistance mechanisms to pharmacological pressure exerted by cetuximab or panitumumab.2–4 Here we show that these molecular abnormalities can simultaneously arise within the same patient after initial response to treatment. Further, data from this case study highlight how these distinct genetic alterations can coexist in the same tumour lesion but also might display substantial intrapatient heterogeneity. In conclusion, this molecular case study highlights how selective drug pressure can sustain tumour evolution consisting in the emergence of polyclonal mechanisms of resistance – within the same patient and even within the same metastatic lesion–that eventually drive cancer progression. The knowledge of these coexisting molecular abnormalities can inform targeted therapeutic strategies to overcome drug resistance.5
Funding Partly supported by AIRC, Associazione Italiana Ricerca Cancro—2010 Special Programme Molecular Clinical Oncology 5×1000, project 9970. Investigators at Niguarda Cancer Center were partly supported by grant Terapia Molecolare Tumori provided by Fondazione Oncologia Niguarda.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/