Background: Contralateral breast cancer (CBC) is associated with younger age at first diagnosis, family history and pathogenic germline variants (PGVs) in genes such as BRCA1, BRCA2 and PALB2. However, data regarding genetic factors predisposing to CBC among younger women who are BRCA1/2/PALB2-negative remain limited.
Methods: In this nested case-control study, participants negative for BRCA1/2/PALB2 PGVs were selected from the WECARE Study. The burden of PGVs in established breast cancer risk genes was compared in 357 cases with CBC and 366 matched controls with unilateral breast cancer (UBC). The samples were sequenced in two phases. Whole exome sequencing was used in Group 1, 162 CBC and 172 UBC (mean age at diagnosis: 42 years). A targeted panel of genes was used in Group 2, 195 CBC and 194 UBC (mean age at diagnosis: 50 years). Comparisons of PGVs burdens between CBC and UBC were made in these groups, and additional stratified sub-analysis was performed within each group according to the age at diagnosis and the time from first breast cancer (BC).
Results: The PGVs burden in Group 1 was significantly higher in CBC than in UBC (p = 0.002, OR = 2.5, 95CI: 1.2-5.6), driven mainly by variants in CHEK2 and ATM. The proportions of PGVs carriers in CBC and UBC in this group were 14.8% and 5.8%, respectively. There was no significant difference in PGVs burden between CBC and UBC in Group 2 (p = 0.4, OR = 1.4, 95CI: 0.7-2.8), with proportions of carriers being 8.7% and 8.2%, respectively. There was a significant association of PGVs in CBC with younger age. Metanalysis combining both groups confirmed the significant association between the burden of PGVs and the risk of CBC (p = 0.006) with the significance driven by the younger cases (Group 1).
Conclusion: In younger BRCA1/BRCA2/PALB2-negative women, the aggregated burden of PGVs in breast cancer risk genes was associated with the increased risk of CBC and was inversely proportional to the age at onset.
Keywords: contralateral breast cancer; exome sequencing; genomics; hereditary breast cancer.