Purpose: Thymoma represents one of the rarest of all malignancies. Stage and completeness of resection have been used to ascertain postoperative therapeutic strategies albeit with limited prognostic accuracy. A molecular classifier would be useful to improve the assessment of metastatic behaviour and optimize patient management.
Methods: qRT-PCR assay for 23 genes (19 test and four reference genes) was performed on multi-institutional archival primary thymomas (n = 36). Gene expression levels were used to compute a signature, classifying tumors into classes 1 and 2, corresponding to low or high likelihood for metastases. The signature was validated in an independent multi-institutional cohort of patients (n = 75).
Results: A nine-gene signature that can predict metastatic behavior of thymomas was developed and validated. Using radial basis machine modeling in the training set, 5-year and 10-year metastasis-free survival rates were 77% and 26% for predicted low (class 1) and high (class 2) risk of metastasis (P = 0.0047, log-rank), respectively. For the validation set, 5-year metastasis-free survival rates were 97% and 30% for predicted low- and high-risk patients (P = 0.0004, log-rank), respectively. The 5-year metastasis-free survival rates for the validation set were 49% and 41% for Masaoka stages I/II and III/IV (P = 0.0537, log-rank), respectively. In univariate and multivariate Cox models evaluating common prognostic factors for thymoma metastasis, the nine-gene signature was the only independent indicator of metastases (P = 0.036).
Conclusion: A nine-gene signature was established and validated which predicts the likelihood of metastasis more accurately than traditional staging. This further underscores the biologic determinants of the clinical course of thymoma and may improve patient management.