We have tested the hypothesis that endometrial precancers persist in uteri of patients with endometrial carcinoma and are monoclonal. Twenty-two hysterectomies with both well-differentiated endometrial adenocarcinoma and adjacent (normal or abnormal) noncancerous endometrium underwent successful clonal analysis using a PCR assay for nonrandom X chromosome inactivation. Monoclonal lesions included endometrial carcinoma, endometrial polyps, and atypical endometrial hyperplasias, whereas normal and anovulatory endometrium were polyclonal. Comparison of the specific X chromosome copy preferentially inactivated by the matched monoclonal cancers and associated monoclonal lesions allowed us to exclude polyps, but not endometrial hyperplasias, as potential precancers. The repetitive genetic marker (HUMARA) for X inactivation was altered in some cancers, permitting identification of microsatellite instability (RER+). Two patients with RER+ cancers also had adjacent RER+ hyperplasias. The seven monoclonal and two RER+ hyperplasias had focal or diffuse cytological atypia, a feature previously associated with risk for endometrial cancer. We conclude that: (a) putative endometrial precancers and cancers share a monoclonal growth pattern; (b) cancers with microsatellite instability may acquire this feature as precancers; and (c) monoclonal endometrial precancers have the morphology of hyperplasias, which vary in the extent of cytological atypia and degree of architectural complexity.

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This work was supported by Research Grant EDT-86 from the American Cancer Society (to G. L. M.) and Grant 94-671 from the American Cancer Society (to A. S. J.).

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