Molecular profiling diagnosis in unknown primary cancer: accuracy and ability to complement standard pathology

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013 Jun 5;105(11):782-90. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djt099. Epub 2013 May 2.


Background: Molecular tumor profiling (MTP) is a potentially powerful diagnostic tool for identifying the tissue of origin in patients with cancer of unknown primary (CUP). However, validation of the accuracy and clinical value of MTP has been difficult because the anatomic primary site in most patients is never identified.

Methods: From March 2008 through January 2010, clinicopathologic data from 171 CUP patients who had MTP (CancerTYPE ID; bioTheranostics, Inc, San Diego, CA) performed on archived material were evaluated. The accuracy of MTP diagnoses was evaluated by comparison with (1) latent primary tumor sites found months/years later; (2) initial single diagnoses by immunohistochemistry (IHC); and (3) additional directed IHC and/or clinicopathologic findings evaluated after MTP diagnoses.

Results: A single MTP diagnosis was made in 144 of 149 patients with adequate tumor specimens. Eighteen of 24 patients with latent primaries discovered months to years later had correct diagnoses by MTP (75%), and these diagnoses compared favorably with IHC. Single IHC diagnoses matched MTP diagnoses in 40 of 52 patients (77%). IHC predictions of 2 or more possible primaries compared poorly with MTP diagnoses. However, additional targeted IHC and clinical/histologic evaluation supported the MTP diagnosis in 26 of 35 patients (74%). Clinical features were usually consistent with MTP diagnoses (70%).

Conclusions: The diagnostic accuracy of this MTP assay was supported by a high level of agreement with identified latent primaries (75%), single IHC diagnoses (77%), and additional directed IHC and/or clinical/histologic findings (74%) prompted by the MTP diagnoses. MTP complements standard pathologic evaluation in determining the tissue of origin in patients with CUP, particularly when IHC is inconclusive.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnosis
  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biopsy
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms, Unknown Primary / chemistry
  • Neoplasms, Unknown Primary / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms, Unknown Primary / genetics*
  • Neoplasms, Unknown Primary / pathology
  • Neoplasms, Unknown Primary / surgery
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Biomarkers, Tumor