Next-generation sequencing (NGS) of bone marrow and peripheral blood increasingly guides clinical care in hematological malignancies. NGS data may help to identify single nucleotide variants, insertions/deletions, copy number variations, and translocations at a single time point, and repeated NGS testing allows tracking of dynamic changes in variants during the course of a patient's disease. Tumor cells used for NGS may contain germline, somatic, and clonal hematopoietic DNA alterations, and distinguishing the etiology of a variant may be challenging. We describe an approach using patient history, individual variant characteristics, and sequential NGS assays to identify potential germline variants. Our current criteria for identifying an individual likely to have a deleterious germline variant include a strong family history or multiple cancers in a single patient, diagnosis of a hematopoietic malignancy at a younger age than seen in the general population, variant allele frequency > 0.3 of a deleterious allele in a known germline predisposition gene, and variant persistence identified on clinical NGS panels, despite a change in disease state. Sequential molecular testing of hematopoietic specimens may provide insight into disease pathology, impact patient and family members' care, and potentially identify new cancer-predisposing risk alleles. Ideally, individuals should give consent at the time of NGS testing to receive information about potential germline variants and to allow future contact as research advances.
© 2020 by The American Society of Hematology.