Common patterns of genetic evolution in human solid tumors

Cytometry. 1997 Sep 1;29(1):1-27.


Human solid tumors develop multiple genetic evolutionary abnormalities as they evolve. Studies that have focused primarily on early colorectal cancer have suggested that genetic instability is a prominent feature of preinvasive disease. At least two separate mechanisms for the generation of genetic instability have been identified. The first, which involves widespread microsatellite instability in near-diploid cells, affects less than one-fifth of colon cancers. The second form of genetic instability is characterized by the development of p53 gene abnormalities that result in gross aneuploidy and multiple structural chromosomal changes. p53/aneuploidy affects most colon cancers, breast cancers, and many other solid tumors. This genetic evolutionary change commonly occurs at the interface between severe dysplasia and invasive disease. Specific post-aneuploid sequences of genetic changes that are relevant to tumor progression often involve the accumulation of multiple gain-of-function abnormalities in individual cells. The co-occurrence of Her-2/neu overexpression and EGF receptor overexpression in the same aneuploid cells defines an adeno/squamous genetic evolutionary sequence that is common to ductal breast cancers, non-small cell lung cancers, and other solid tumors. Later steps in this sequence include ras and c-myc overexpression. The neuroendocrine genetic evolutionary sequence is a separate branch of the p53/aneuploidy sequence with distinctive features that include loss of Rb and raf1 overexpression. Her-2/neu overexpression is not characteristic of this sequence; c-myc amplification/overexpression is common to both p53-associated sequences. The neuroendocrine sequence is found in small cell carcinoma of the lung and in minor proportions of other solid tumors, including breast cancer. Multiparameter cell-based methods are especially well suited for elucidation in human solid tumors of the genetic evolutionary sequences that could provide a rational scientific basis for determining prognosis and for optimizing therapy in individual cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aneuploidy
  • DNA, Neoplasm / chemistry
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Genes, erbB-2
  • Genes, myc
  • Genes, ras
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Models, Genetic
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics


  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53