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Int J Cancer. 2011 Aug 15;129(4):931-7. doi: 10.1002/ijc.25714. Epub 2010 Nov 18.

A strategy for distinguishing optimal cancer subtypes.

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Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 307 East 63rd Street, New York, NY 10065, USA.


Much attention is directed currently to identifying subtypes of cancers that are genetically and clinically distinct. The expectation is that subtyping on the basis of somatic genomic characteristics will supplant traditional pathological subtypes with respect to relevance for targeted therapies and clinical course. Less attention has been paid to the goal of validating subtypes on the basis of the distinctiveness of their etiologies. In this article it is shown that studies of individuals with double primary malignancies provide uniquely valuable information for establishing the etiologic distinctiveness of candidate tumor subtypes. Studies of double primaries have the potential to definitively rank candidate taxonomic systems with respect to their etiological relevance by determining which subtypes are most highly correlated in the double primaries. The concept is illustrated with data from studies of the concordance of estrogen and progestin status in bilateral breast cancers, where it is shown that double primaries are much more likely to be concordant with respect to estrogen receptor (ER) status than for PR status. The high concordance of ER status is consistent with a growing literature demonstrating the etiologic distinctiveness of ER+ and ER- tumors.

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