Tumour budding is associated with the mesenchymal colon cancer subtype and RAS/RAF mutations: a study of 1320 colorectal cancers with Consensus Molecular Subgroup (CMS) data

Br J Cancer. 2018 Nov;119(10):1244-1251. doi: 10.1038/s41416-018-0230-7. Epub 2018 Nov 2.


Background: Tumour budding is an important prognostic factor in colorectal cancer (CRC). Molecular profiling of tumour buds suggests (partial) epithelial-mesenchymal transition and cancer stem-cell phenotype, similarly described in the "mesenchymal" Consensus Molecular Subtype 4 (CMS4), which identifies a particularly poor prognostic subgroup. Here, we determine the association of tumour budding with CMS classification, prognosis, and response to therapy.

Methods: AMC-AJCCII-90 cohort (n = 76, stage II) was evaluated for peritumoural budding on H&E slides. LUMC (n = 270, stage I-IV), CAIRO (n = 504, metastatic CRC) and CAIRO2 (n = 472, metastatic CRC) cohorts were investigated for intratumoural budding using pan-cytokeratin-stained tissue microarrays. Budding was scored as count/area, then classified as <5 or ≥5 buds. For all cohorts, CMS classifications were available (gene-expression/immunohistochemistry-based classifiers).

Results: High (≥5) budding predicted a worse outcome in multivariate analysis in AMC-AJCCII-90 (p = 0.018), LUMC (p < 0.0001), and CAIRO (p = 0.03), and in CAIRO2 (continuous variable, p = 0.02). Tumour budding counts were higher in CMS4 compared to epithelial CMS2/3 cancers (p < 0.01, all), and associated with KRAS/BRAF mutations (p < 0.01, AMC-AJCCII-90, CAIRO, CAIRO2).

Conclusion: Tumour budding is an adverse prognostic factor across all CRC stages and is associated with the mesenchymal CMS4 phenotype. KRAS/BRAF mutations are strongly correlated with tumour budding suggesting their involvement in the regulation of this process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / classification
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Female
  • Genes, ras*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mesoderm / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation*
  • Prognosis
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • raf Kinases / genetics*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • raf Kinases