Context: Correct diagnosis of the tissue origin of a metastatic cancer is the first step in disease management, but it is frequently difficult using standard pathologic methods. Microarray-based gene expression profiling has shown great promise as a new tool to address this challenge.
Objective: Adoption of microarray technologies in the clinic remains limited. We aimed to bridge this technological gap by developing a real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay.
Design: We constructed a microarray database of 466 frozen and 112 formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) samples of both primary and metastatic tumors, measuring expression of 22,000 genes. From the microarray database, we used a genetic algorithm to search for gene combinations optimal for multitumor classification. A 92-gene RT-PCR assay was then designed and used to generate a database for 481 frozen and 119 FFPE tumor samples.
Results: The microarray-based K-nearest neighbor classifier demonstrated 84% accuracy in classifying 39 tumor types via cross-validation and 82% accuracy in predicting 112 independent FFPE samples. We successfully translated the microarray database to the RT-PCR platform, which allowed an overall success rate of 87% in classifying 32 different tumor classes in the validation set of 119 FFPE tumor samples.
Conclusions: The RT-PCR-based expression assay involving 92 genes represents a powerful tool for accurately and objectively identifying the site of origin for metastatic tumors, especially in the cases of cancer of unknown primary. The assay uses RT-PCR and routine FFPE samples, making it suitable for rapid clinical adoption.