Clonal relationship and alcohol consumption-associated mutational signature in synchronous hypopharyngeal tumours and oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma

Br J Cancer. 2022 Dec;127(12):2166-2174. doi: 10.1038/s41416-022-01995-0. Epub 2022 Oct 19.


Background: The patients with dual oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) and hypopharyngeal cancer (HPC) have poor prognosis; their underlying genetic pathogenesis is unclear. We hypothesise that development of synchronous ESCC/HPC depends on multicentricity or independent origin, rather than multifocality due to local or lateral spreading.

Method: Multiple region whole-exome sequencing (M-WES) and clonality analysis were used to assess clonal relationship and spatial inter- or intra-tumour heterogeneity (ITH) in 62 tumour regions from eight dual ESCC/HPC and ten ESCC patients.

Results: All synchronous ESCC/HPC patients had COSMIC 16 mutation signatures, compared to only 40% ESCC in the current study (p = 0.013) and public data set (n = 165, p = 0.003). This alcohol consumption-related mutation signature 16, commonly involved in multiple alcohol-related cancers, was significantly associated with drinking and alcohol metabolism-related ADH1B rs1229984. The mutational landscape and copy number profiles were completely distinct between the two primary tumours; clonality analysis further suggested the two primary tumours shared no or only one clone accompanying independent subclone evolution. M-WES strategy demonstrated higher sensitivity and accuracy for detection of mutational prevalence and the late branch mutations among different regions in the ESCC tumours, compared to traditional sequencing analysis based on single biopsy strategy. Patients with high ITH assessed by cancer cell fraction analysis after M-WES were significantly associated with both relapse and survival.

Conclusions: Our hypothesis-generating M-WES ITH assessment data have implications for prognostication. Collectively, our findings support multicentric independent clonal evolution, the field cancerisation theory, and suggest novel insights implicating an aetiologic role of alcohol metabolism in dual ESCC/HPC carcinogenesis.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / genetics
  • Esophageal Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Hypopharyngeal Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Mutation