Background: Optimizing treatment through microarray-based molecular subtyping is a promising method to address the problem of heterogeneity in breast cancer; however, current application is restricted to prediction of distant recurrence risk. This study investigated whether breast cancer molecular subtyping according to its global intrinsic biology could be used for treatment customization.
Methods: Gene expression profiling was conducted on fresh frozen breast cancer tissue collected from 327 patients in conjunction with thoroughly documented clinical data. A method of molecular subtyping based on 783 probe-sets was established and validated. Statistical analysis was performed to correlate molecular subtypes with survival outcome and adjuvant chemotherapy regimens. Heterogeneity of molecular subtypes within groups sharing the same distant recurrence risk predicted by genes of the Oncotype and MammaPrint predictors was studied.
Results: We identified six molecular subtypes of breast cancer demonstrating distinctive molecular and clinical characteristics. These six subtypes showed similarities and significant differences from the Perou-Sørlie intrinsic types. Subtype I breast cancer was in concordance with chemosensitive basal-like intrinsic type. Adjuvant chemotherapy of lower intensity with CMF yielded survival outcome similar to those of CAF in this subtype. Subtype IV breast cancer was positive for ER with a full-range expression of HER2, responding poorly to CMF; however, this subtype showed excellent survival when treated with CAF. Reduced expression of a gene associated with methotrexate sensitivity in subtype IV was the likely reason for poor response to methotrexate. All subtype V breast cancer was positive for ER and had excellent long-term survival with hormonal therapy alone following surgery and/or radiation therapy. Adjuvant chemotherapy did not provide any survival benefit in early stages of subtype V patients. Subtype V was consistent with a unique subset of luminal A intrinsic type. When molecular subtypes were correlated with recurrence risk predicted by genes of Oncotype and MammaPrint predictors, a significant degree of heterogeneity within the same risk group was noted. This heterogeneity was distributed over several subtypes, suggesting that patients in the same risk groups require different treatment approaches.
Conclusions: Our results indicate that the molecular subtypes established in this study can be utilized for customization of breast cancer treatment.