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Clinical and molecular characteristics of estrogen receptor‐positive ultralow risk breast cancer tumors identified by the 70‐gene signature

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The metastatic potential of estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancers is heterogeneous and distant recurrences occur months to decades after primary diagnosis. We have previously shown that patients with tumors classified as ultralow risk by the 70-gene signature have a minimal long-term risk of fatal breast cancer. Here, we evaluate the previously unexplored underlying clinical and molecular characteristics of ultralow risk tumors in 538 ER-positive patients from the Stockholm tamoxifen randomized trial (STO-3). Out of the 98 ultralow risk tumors, 89% were luminal A molecular subtype, whereas 26% of luminal A tumors were of ultralow risk. Compared to other ER-positive tumors, ultralow risk tumors were significantly (Fisher's test, P < .05) more likely to be of smaller tumor size, lower grade, progesterone receptor (PR)-positive, human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2)-negative and have low Ki-67 levels (proliferation-marker). Moreover, ultralow risk tumors showed significantly lower expression scores of multi-gene modules associated with the AKT/mTOR-pathway, proliferation (AURKA), HER2/ERBB2-signaling, IGF1-pathway, PTEN-loss and immune response (IMMUNE1 and IMMUNE2) and higher expression scores of the PIK3CA-mutation-associated module. Furthermore, 706 genes were significantly (FDR < 0.001) differentially expressed in ultralow risk tumors, including lower expression of genes involved in immune response, PI3K/Akt/mTOR-pathway, histones, cell cycle, DNA repair, apoptosis and higher expression of genes coding for epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and homeobox proteins, among others. In conclusion, ultralow risk tumors, associated with minimal long-term risk of fatal disease, differ from other ER-positive tumors, including luminal A molecular subtype tumors. Identification of these characteristics is important to improve our prediction of nonfatal vs fatal breast cancer.

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