Intra-tumoral genomic heterogeneity is a well-established biologic property of human malignancies with emerging roles in cancer progression and therapy resistance. However, its impact on the clinical utility of genomic testing in patient management remains unclear. Furthermore, best practices to account for heterogeneity in the provision of highly accurate, clinically valid molecular testing have yet to be firmly established. Genomic biomarkers for the management of colorectal carcinoma are both well-established (ie, KRAS, NRAS) and emerging (BRAF, PIK3CA, and others) in respect to therapy selection and clinical trial eligibility. Critically, standard colorectal carcinoma management requires the exclusion of KRAS and NRAS mutations; thus optimal procedures to control for potential intra-tumoral heterogeneity are clinically important. Here, we assessed heterogeneity among three intra-tumoral sites within 99 colorectal carcinomas cases on a CLIA-validated oncology next generation sequencing assay and examined whether a pooling strategy overcame any discordant results. Overall, 11% of cases demonstrated discordant mutation results between sites; 2% of cases were discrepant for mutations within RAS genes while the remainder was discrepant in PIK3CA. Half of the discrepant cases were associated with borderline tumor cellularity assessment. Further, a sample pooling strategy across all three sites successfully detected the relevant mutation in all but one case. Our results indicate that intra-tumoral genomic heterogeneity of clinically relevant genes within colorectal carcinoma is a relatively infrequent occurrence and that a simple strategy to pool DNA from several tumor sites with adequate cellularity minimizes the risk of false negative results even further to ensure optimal patient management.
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