Whole-genome sequencing reveals clinically relevant insights into the aetiology of familial breast cancers

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Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is a powerful method for revealing the diversity and complexity of the somatic mutation burden of tumours. Here we investigated the utility of tumour and matched germline WGS for understanding aetiology and treatment opportunities for high-risk individuals with familial breast cancer.

Patients and Methods

We carried out WGS on 78 paired germline and tumour DNA samples from individuals carrying pathogenic variants in BRCA1 (n = 26) or BRCA2 (n = 22) or from non-carriers (non-BRCA1/2; n = 30).


Matched germline/tumour WGS and somatic mutational signature analysis revealed patients with unreported, dual pathogenic germline variants in cancer risk genes (BRCA1/BRCA2; BRCA1/MUTYH). The strategy identified that 100% of tumours from BRCA1 carriers and 91% of tumours from BRCA2 carriers exhibited biallelic inactivation of the respective gene, together with somatic mutational signatures suggestive of a functional deficiency in homologous recombination. A set of non-BRCA1/2 tumours also had somatic signatures indicative of BRCA-deficiency; including carriers of a PALB2 pathogenic germline variant and a BRCA2 variant of uncertain significance (VUS). A subset of 13 non-BRCA1/2 tumours from early onset cases were BRCA-proficient, yet displayed complex clustered structural rearrangements associated with the amplification of oncogenes and pathogenic germline variants in TP53, ATM and CHEK2.


Our study highlights the role that WGS of matched germline/tumour DNA and the somatic mutational signatures can play in the discovery of pathogenic germline variants and for providing supporting evidence for variant pathogenicity. WGS-derived signatures were more robust than germline status and other genomic predictors of homologous recombination deficiency, thus impacting the selection of platinum-based or PARP inhibitor therapy. In this first examination of non-BRCA1/2 tumours by WGS, we illustrate the considerable heterogeneity of these tumour genomes and highlight that complex genomic rearrangements may drive tumourigenesis in a subset of cases.

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