BACKGROUND: While a number of autosomal dominant and autosomal recessive cancer syndromes have an associated spectrum of cancers, the prevalence and variety of cancer predisposition mutations in patients with multiple primary cancers have not been extensively investigated. An understanding of the variants predisposing to more than one cancer type could improve patient care, including screening and genetic counselling, as well as advancing the understanding of tumour development.
METHODS: A cohort of 57 patients ascertained due to their cutaneous melanoma (CM) diagnosis and with a history of two or more additional non-cutaneous independent primary cancer types were recruited for this study. Patient blood samples were assessed by whole exome or whole genome sequencing. We focussed on variants in 525 pre-selected genes, including 65 autosomal dominant and 31 autosomal recessive cancer predisposition genes, 116 genes involved in the DNA repair pathway, and 313 commonly somatically mutated in cancer. The same genes were analysed in exome sequence data from 1358 control individuals collected as part of non-cancer studies (UK10K). The identified variants were classified for pathogenicity using online databases, literature and in silico prediction tools.
RESULTS: No known pathogenic autosomal dominant or previously described compound heterozygous mutations in autosomal recessive genes were observed in the multiple cancer cohort. Variants typically found somatically in haematological malignancies (in JAK1, JAK2, SF3B1, SRSF2, TET2 and TYK2) were present in lymphocyte DNA of patients with multiple primary cancers, all of whom had a history of haematological malignancy and cutaneous melanoma, as well as colorectal cancer and/or prostate cancer. Other potentially pathogenic variants were discovered in BUB1B, POLE2, ROS1 and DNMT3A. Compared to controls, multiple cancer cases had significantly more likely damaging mutations (nonsense, frameshift ins/del) in tumour suppressor and tyrosine kinase genes and higher overall burden of mutations in all cancer genes.
CONCLUSIONS: We identified several pathogenic variants that likely predispose to at least one of the tumours in patients with multiple cancers. We additionally present evidence that there may be a higher burden of variants of unknown significance in 'cancer genes' in patients with multiple cancer types. Further screens of this nature need to be carried out to build evidence to show if the cancers observed in these patients form part of a cancer spectrum associated with single germline variants in these genes, whether multiple layers of susceptibility exist (oligogenic or polygenic), or if the occurrence of multiple different cancers is due to random chance.