Intratumor heterogeneity of epidermal growth factor receptor mutations in lung cancer and its correlation to the response to gefitinib

Cancer Sci. 2008 May;99(5):929-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1349-7006.2008.00782.x. Epub 2008 Mar 4.


Somatic mutations introduced into the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) are important factors to determine therapeutic responses to gefitinib. The current diagnostic test measures the overall EGFR mutation status of the cancer tissue, and may ignore the presence of non-mutated, gefitinib-unresponsive cancer cells. Twenty-one NSCLC patients with EGFR mutations were recruited for the study. All patients were treated with gefitinib after surgical treatment. Fifty to sixty areas of NSCLC tumors were sampled from each tissue, and their EGFR mutation states were determined by a primer extension assay. This assay discriminates between EGFR mutation-positive and -negative cancer cells within a single tumor tissue. Fifteen tissues consisted only of cells with EGFR mutations, but the remaining six tissues contained both mutated and non-mutated cells. Time to disease progression and overall survival after gefitinib treatment were significantly shorter in those patients with EGFR heterogeneity (P = 0.009 and P = 0.003, respectively). A considerable proportion of NSCLC contains a heterogeneous population of both EGFR mutated and non-mutated cancer cells, resulting in a reduced response to gefitinib. The intratumor genetic heterogeneity of a target molecule such as EGFR would be an important factor to consider when treating patients with molecular target agents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gefitinib
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mutation*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Quinazolines / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Quinazolines
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Gefitinib