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Front Oncol. 2017 Sep 25;7:230. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2017.00230. eCollection 2017.

Genetic Characterization of Brain Metastases in the Era of Targeted Therapy.

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Departments of Neurology and Radiation Oncology, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States.
Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, School of Medical Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.


In the current era of molecularly targeted therapies and precision medicine, choice of cancer treatment has been increasingly tailored according to the molecular or genomic characterization of the cancer the individual has. Previously, the clinical observation of inadequate control of brain metastases was widely attributed to a lack of central nervous system (CNS) penetration of the anticancer drugs. However, more recent data have suggested that there are genetic explanations for such observations. Genomic analyses of brain metastases and matching primary tumor and other extracranial metastases have revealed that brain metastases can harbor potentially actionable driver mutations that are unique to them. Identification of genomic alterations specific to brain metastases and targeted therapies against these mutations represent an important research area to potentially improve survival outcomes for patients who develop brain metastases. Novel approaches in genomic testing such as that using cell-free circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) facilitate advancing our understanding of the genomics of brain metastases, which is critical for precision medicine. CSF-derived ctDNA sequencing may be particularly useful in patients who are unfit for surgical resection or have multiple brain metastases, which can harbor mutations that are distinct from their primary tumors. Compared to the traditional chemotherapeutics, novel targeted agents appear to be more effective in controlling the CNS disease with better safety profiles. Several brain metastases-dedicated trials of various targeted therapies are currently underway to address the role of these agents in the treatment of CNS disease. This review focuses on recent advances in genomic profiling of brain metastases and current knowledge of targeted therapies in the management of brain metastases from cancers of the breast, lung, colorectum, kidneys, and ovaries as well as melanoma.


brain metastases; cancer heterogeneity; genomics; sequencing; targeted therapy

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