Background: Circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) has emerged as a potential tool for detecting disease recurrence, monitoring response to therapy, and identifying resistance mutations in the peripheral blood. With increased frequency of testing, there is an unmet need to recognize putative germline variants in ctDNA, and the probability that these variants are associated with inherited conditions. Here, we evaluated a large cohort of breast cancer patients who underwent ctDNA evaluation to determine the type and frequency of ctDNA mutations identified with confirmed germline testing.

Methods: We reviewed ctDNA testing from a single institution (Northwestern University). All breast cancer patients who had next-generation sequencing (NGS) performed by Guardant Health (Redwood City, CA) from 2015-2020 were included in this retrospective study. An allele frequency cutoff of 30% was pre-established as a threshold to review patient charts to determine whether genetic counseling and germline testing were performed, along with the timeframe of this testing (e.g. before or after ctDNA evaluation). Clinical information including demographics, pathology, tissue NGS testing, and germline testing were collected. Descriptive analyses and statistical associations were performed using STATA.

Results: The initial cohort consisted of 520 patients with breast cancer who underwent ctDNA testing. From this, we identified 84 patients (16.2%) who had at least one variant with allele frequency ≥30%. The most common variants identified were the following: TP53 (34%), PIK3CA (27%), BRCA1 (9%), BRCA2 (8%), and AKT1 (4%). Guardant360 classified 99% of these variants as pathogenic and 1% as a variant of unknown significance. Germline positivity using a separate CLIA-approved test for this indication was confirmed at the following frequencies: BRCA1 (2 of 8 positive, 25%), BRCA2 (2 of 5 positive, 40%), PIK3CA (0 of 5 positive), and TP53 (0 of 26 positive). In total, 14% of patients with ctDNA allele frequency ≥30% had a confirmed germline mutation. Lower age at breast cancer diagnosis was significantly associated with the probability of germline testing prior to ctDNA evaluation (P=0.0001). For patients who had a variant with allele frequency ≥30%, 24.3% never received genetic counseling or germline testing.

Conclusion: High allele frequency ctDNA variants (≥30%) were present in 16% of patients who underwent ctDNA evaluation with 14% of these variants confirmed as true germline variants. Consenting patients for ctDNA testing should include the possibility of identifying putative germline variants, and criteria should be established to refer patients for subsequent genetic counseling and germline testing, given the potential implications for patients and their family members.

Citation Format: Andrew A Davis, Michael C Burns, Lorenzo Gerratana, Paolo D'Amico, Saya Jacob, Ami Shah, Neelima Katam, Firas Wehbe, Qiang Zhang, Elena Vagia, Lisa Flaum, Kalliopi P. Siziopikou, Leonidas C Platanias, Amir Behdad, William J Gradishar, Massimo Cristofanilli. Identification of incidental putative germline variants in circulating tumor DNA [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Virtual Symposium; 2020 Dec 8-11; San Antonio, TX. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2021;81(4 Suppl):Abstract nr PS2-08.