It is frequently assumed that pre-invasive lesions are simpler precursors of cancer and will contain a limited subset of the genomic changes seen in their associated invasive disease. Driver mutations are thought to occur early, but it is not known how many of these are present in pre-invasive lesions. These assumptions need to be tested with the increasing focus on both personalised cancer treatments and early detection methodologies.
We examined genomic copy number changes in 256 pre-invasive and invasive samples from 69 oral cancer patients. Forty-eight samples from 16 patients were further examined using exome sequencing.
Evidence of a shared ancestor of both dysplasia and carcinoma was seen in all but one patient. One-third of dysplasias showed independent copy number events. The remainder had a copy number pattern that was similar to or simpler than that of the carcinoma. All dysplasias examined contained somatic mutations absent in the related carcinoma.
Previously observed copy number changes and TP53 mutations were very frequently observed, and almost always shared between dysplasia and carcinoma. Other gene changes were more sporadic. Pathway analysis confirmed that each patient’s disease developed in a different way.
Examining the numbers of shared mutations and the rate of accumulation of mutations showed evidence that all samples contain a population of sub-clones, with little evidence of selective advantage of a subset of these.
These findings suggest that most of the genomic changes driving oral cancer occur in the pre-cancerous state by way of gradual random accumulation rather than a dramatic single event.
- oral cancer
- tumour progression