Translating insights into tumor evolution to clinical practice: promises and challenges

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Abstract

Accelerating technological advances have allowed the widespread genomic profiling of tumors. As yet, however, the vast catalogues of mutations that have been identified have made only a modest impact on clinical medicine. Massively parallel sequencing has informed our understanding of the genetic evolution and heterogeneity of cancers, allowing us to place these mutational catalogues into a meaningful context. Here, we review the methods used to measure tumor evolution and heterogeneity, and the potential and challenges for translating the insights gained to achieve clinical impact for cancer therapy, monitoring, early detection, risk stratification, and prevention. We discuss how tumor evolution can guide cancer therapy by targeting clonal and subclonal mutations both individually and in combination. Circulating tumor DNA and circulating tumor cells can be leveraged for monitoring the efficacy of therapy and for tracking the emergence of resistant subclones. The evolutionary history of tumors can be deduced for late-stage cancers, either directly by sampling precursor lesions or by leveraging computational approaches to infer the timing of driver events. This approach can identify recurrent early driver mutations that represent promising avenues for future early detection strategies. Emerging evidence suggests that mutational processes and complex clonal dynamics are active even in normal development and aging. This will make discriminating developing malignant neoplasms from normal aging cell lineages a challenge. Furthermore, insight into signatures of mutational processes that are active early in tumor evolution may allow the development of cancer-prevention approaches. Research and clinical studies that incorporate an appreciation of the complex evolutionary patterns in tumors will not only produce more meaningful genomic data, but also better exploit the vulnerabilities of cancer, resulting in improved treatment outcomes.

Journal details

Journal Genome Medicine
Volume 11
Issue number 1
Pages 20
Publication date

Crick authors

Crick First author
Crick Corresponding author