The presence of BRCA pathogenic variants (PV) in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is associated with a distinctive genomic profile that makes the tumor particularly susceptible to DNA-damaging treatments. However, patients with BRCA PVs can develop treatment resistance through the appearance of reversion mutations and restored BRCA expression. As copy-number variants (CNV) could be less susceptible to reversion mutations than point mutations, we hypothesize that carriers of BRCA CNVs may have improved survival after treatment compared with carriers of other BRCA PVs or BRCA wild-type. Women diagnosed with stage I–III TNBC at ≤50 years at a cancer center in Mexico City were screened for BRCA PVs using a recurrent PV assay (HISPANEL; 77% sensitivity). Recurrence-free survival (RFS) and overall survival (OS) were compared according to the mutational status. Among 180 women, 17 (9%) were carriers of BRCA1 ex9–12del CNVs and 26 (14%) of other BRCA PVs. RFS at ten years for the whole cohort was 79.2% [95% confidence interval (CI), 72.3–84.6], with no significant differences according to mutational status. 10-year OS for the entire cohort was 85.3% (95% CI, 78.7–90.0), with BRCA CNV carriers demonstrating numerically superior OS rates other PV carriers and noncarriers (100% vs. 78.6% and 84.7%; log-rank P = 0.037 and P = 0.051, respectively). This study suggests that BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV carriers with TNBC may have a better OS, and supports the hypothesis that the genotype of BRCA PVs may influence survival by limiting treatment resistance mediated by reversion mutations among CNV carriers.

Significance:

Large CNV BRCA carriers in a cohort of young Mexican patients with TNBC had superior OS rates than carriers of other BRCA pathogenic variants (i.e., small indels or point mutations). We hypothesize that this is due to the resistance of CNVs to reversion mutations mediating resistance to therapy. If validated, these findings have important prognostic and clinical treatment implications for BRCA-associated breast cancers.

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed malignancy and the leading cause of cancer-related death in females (1). It is estimated that 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are related to inherited predisposition genes, with germline BRCA1 and BRCA2 pathogenic variants (BRCA PV) being the most common (2, 3). The presence of these germline PVs can have an important effect on the characteristics of breast tumors. BRCA1-mutated breast cancers tend to have a high histologic grade and be classified as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), while tumors associated with BRCA2 PVs are associated with estrogen receptor (ER)-positive and HER2-negative subtype, but with a tendency toward a higher proportion of TNBC with increasing age (4).

Despite the effects of BRCA PVs on the clinicopathologic features of breast tumors, the prognostic effect of these PVs is less clear (5–7). In general, it appears that no significant difference exists in overall survival (OS) in comparison to phenotypically similar tumors of noncarriers of BRCA PVs, except for a tendency toward a worse OS in ER-positive BRCA-associated tumors (8, 9). Recent studies of TNBC did not reveal significant correlation between BRCA status and recurrence-free survival (RFS) or OS (10–12). Nevertheless, the Prospective Outcomes in Sporadic versus Hereditary breast cancer (POSH) study reported that BRCA PV carriers with young-onset TNBC (defined as women aged <40 years at diagnosis) may have a survival advantage in the first 2 years after detection, although this was not statistically significant after 5 years (12). A possible explanation for the observed disparities in previous literature is a genotype–phenotype correlation, meaning that not all BRCA PVs have the same impact on breast cancer treatment response and survival outcomes (13, 14).

A key function of the BRCA tumor suppressor genes is to maintain genomic stability through homologous recombination repair (HRR) of DNA double-strand breaks. Hence, BRCA-deficient cases have a distinctive genomic aberration profile that makes them particularly susceptible to certain treatments, such as platinum-based chemotherapy regimens and PARP inhibitors (PARPi; refs. 3, 15). However, patients with BRCA-PV–associated breast cancer can develop resistance to DNA-damaging therapies through the appearance of reversion mutations, which restore the reading frame and can recover at least partial BRCA function (16, 17). Large genomic rearrangements, referred hereafter as copy-number variants (CNV), account for 10% to 40% of germline BRCA1 and 3% of germline BRCA2 PVs (18, 19). Pathogenic small insertion/deletion or base substitution variants that cause early protein truncation and CNVs both cause the loss of critical functional domains of BRCA proteins (20). However, with large segments of the gene missing, we presume that CNVs are less susceptible to reversion mutations. Thus, we hypothesize that carriers of BRCA CNVs with TNBC may have an improved survival after treatment compared with carriers of other BRCA PVs secondary to the inability of restoring BRCA expression.

We previously described a young Mexican TNBC cohort where the BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV (also known as the Mexican BRCA1 founder mutation) represented 40% of all germline BRCA PVs (21). Of note, TNBC represents a substantial proportion of breast cancer cases diagnosed in Mexico (16%–23%; refs. 22, 23), and is particularly prevalent in cases diagnosed at a young age (<50 years) and in those with germline BRCA PVs (4). The aim of this study is to compare the survival of young patients with TNBC with the BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV, other BRCA PVs (small insertion/deletion or base substitution variants), and noncarriers to explore the influence of the BRCA genotype on survival.

Patient Cohort

A cohort of Mexican women diagnosed with TNBC at 50 years of age or younger between January 2006 and January 2012 that received treatment at the National Cancer Institute (INCan) in Mexico City has been described previously (21). To be eligible for this analysis, ER- and PR-negative status (<1% nuclear staining by IHC) and HER2 overexpression status (0 or 1+ by IHC or 2+ by IHC but demonstrated not to be amplified with FISH) was ascertained from pathology reports of tumor tissue. The patients provided written informed consent in accordance with recognized ethical guidelines (Declaration of Helsinki; U.S. Common rule), and the studies were approved by the INCan institutional review board.

Screening for BRCA Germline PVs

As described previously (21), a total of 190 patients were analyzed for BRCA germline PVs using the HISPANEL assay, which screens for 114 indels and point BRCA PVs described as prevalent in Hispanic patients with breast cancer by five multiplex reactions on the Sequenom® (San Diego, CA) MassARRAY platform (matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization—time-of-flight mass spectrometry) and includes a three-primer PCR assay for the BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV (20).

Clinicopathologic Data Collection

Electronic medical records from INCan's digital database were retrospectively reviewed up to December 31, 2019. The data collected for the 190 BRCA-characterized patients included patient age at diagnosis, clinical and/or pathologic TNM staging (according to the 7th edition of the American Joint Committee on Cancer Staging System), chemotherapy regimen used, histologic grade, mutational status, disease recurrence, second primary malignancies, and vital status. OS was defined as the time elapsed from histologic diagnosis of breast cancer until death by any cause and RFS was defined as the time elapsed from diagnosis until disease recurrence or death by any cause.

As the objective of this study was to compare OS and RFS rates between carriers of BRCA1 ex9–12del, carriers of other BRCA PVs, and patients without a detectable BRCA PV, patients with in situ or stage IV disease were excluded from this analysis. Ultimately, 10 patients were excluded from this study: unspecified disease stage (n = 2), in situ disease (n = 1), and stage IV at diagnosis (n = 7), resulting in a total of 180 patients with BRCA-characterized TNBC included in the statistical analysis (Supplementary Fig. S1).

Statistical Analysis

Statistical analyses were carried out using STATA version 13.0 software (StataCorp), R 4.0.2 (R Core Team 2020), and SAS9.4 packages. The patients were grouped according to BRCA mutational status. Descriptive statistics were undertaken using frequency and proportions for categorical variables and median and range for quantitative variables. Mann–Whitney U, χ2, and Fisher exact tests were used for exploring differences according to group category, as appropriate. OS and RFS were calculated using the Kaplan–Meier method. The log-rank test was used for survival comparisons between groups, and the exact calculation method was applied for comparisons involving zero events. Cox regression analyses were carried out to estimate the survival HRs associated with the class of BRCA germline PV. Noting that HR is undefined with zero events in one group, we reported survival and a confidence interval (CI) at a fixed time (e.g., 10 years), although with statistics from the log-rank test. The Beta Product Confidence Procedure (BPCP) was used to calculate the confidence intervals at specific timepoints if no survival failure events were observed in a group category. The BPCP method provides conservative confidence bounds, despite limited sample size. Statistical significance was set at a two-sided P value of < 0.05. No adjustment for multiple hypothesis testing was performed in the context of this retrospective analysis.

Patient Demographics and Clinical Characteristics

A total of 180 patients with TNBC aged ≤50 years at diagnosis were included in this study, of which 43 patients (24%) were BRCA PV carriers. Of these, 17 (40%) were found to harbor the BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV, while 26 (60%) had other BRCA PVs (Table 1). The median follow-up from breast cancer diagnosis for the entire cohort was 10.3 years (95% CI, 9.5–10.8). As shown in Supplementary Table S1, no statistical differences of median follow-up were found according to mutational status (median follow-up of 10.7 years for BRCA CNV carriers, 10.1 years for other BRCA PV carriers, and 10.3 years for noncarriers).

TABLE 1

BRCA PVs identified in this cohort of patients with TNBC.

GeneExon(s)BIC variantHGVS variantn
BRCA1 9–12 ex9–12del c.548-?_4185+?del 17 
BRCA1 11 943ins10 c.815_824dup 
BRCA1 330A>G (R71G) c.211A > G 
BRCA1 11 2925del4 c.2806_2809del 
BRCA1 13 4446C>T (R1443X) c.4327C > T 
BRCA1 185delAG c.66_67del 
BRCA1 11 3878delTA c.3759_3760del 
BRCA1 11 3717C>T (Q1200X) c.3598C > T 
BRCA1 11 2415delAG c.2292_2293del 
BRCA1 18 5242C>A (A1708E) c.5123C > A 
BRCA1 11 1979delT c.1860del 
BRCA1 IVS20+1delG c.5277+1del 
BRCA2 11 2452C > T (Q742X) c.2224C > T 
GeneExon(s)BIC variantHGVS variantn
BRCA1 9–12 ex9–12del c.548-?_4185+?del 17 
BRCA1 11 943ins10 c.815_824dup 
BRCA1 330A>G (R71G) c.211A > G 
BRCA1 11 2925del4 c.2806_2809del 
BRCA1 13 4446C>T (R1443X) c.4327C > T 
BRCA1 185delAG c.66_67del 
BRCA1 11 3878delTA c.3759_3760del 
BRCA1 11 3717C>T (Q1200X) c.3598C > T 
BRCA1 11 2415delAG c.2292_2293del 
BRCA1 18 5242C>A (A1708E) c.5123C > A 
BRCA1 11 1979delT c.1860del 
BRCA1 IVS20+1delG c.5277+1del 
BRCA2 11 2452C > T (Q742X) c.2224C > T 

Abbreviations: BIC, Breast Cancer Information Core; HGVS, Human Genome Variation Society.

Clinical characteristics are summarized in Table 2. BRCA PV carriers were diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age than noncarriers (38 vs. 43 years; P < 0.001), with no observed difference between carriers of CNVs and other PVs. There were no significant differences observed between groups with respect to clinical stage or histologic grade. However, BRCA CNV carriers had a tendency toward negative lymph node status at diagnosis [10/16 (62.5%) CNV carriers with negative lymph node involvement vs. 9/25 (36%) other PV carriers vs. 43/136 (32%) noncarriers; three-group exact χ2 test P = 0.049]. BRCA PV carriers had a higher prevalence of bilateral breast cancer compared with noncarriers (19% vs. 4%; P = 0.003), with a nonsignificant excess of bilateral breast cancer in BRCA CNV carriers compared with the other PV group (24% vs. 15%; P = 0.692).

TABLE 2

Select clinicopathologic characteristics of included TNBC cases.

BRCA mutation carriers
All BRCA PV carriersBRCA CNV carriersaOther BRCA PVsbPcNoncarriersPd
n 43 17 26 — 137 — 
Age at diagnosis 
 Median (range) 38 (23–50) 39 (28–50) 37.5 (23–48) 0.784 43 (25–50) <0.001 
 Missing — 1 (1%)  
Bilateral BC 8 (19%) 4 (24%) 4 (15%) 0.692 5 (4%) 0.003 
Stage      — 
 I 5 (12%) 2 (12%) 3 (12%) 0.326 8 (6%) 0.277 
 II 22 (51%) 11 (65%) 11 (42%)  63 (46%)  
 III 16 (37%) 4 (24%) 12 (46%)  66 (48%)  
Nodal status 
 Positive 22 (51%) 6 (35%) 16 (62%) 0.120 93 (68%) 0.095 
 Negative 19 (44%) 10 (59%) 9 (35%)  43 (31%)  
 Missing 2 (5%) 1 (6%) 1 (4%) — 1 (1%) — 
Histologic grade 
 1 >0.999 4 (3%) 0.286 
 2 2 (5%) 1 (6%) 1 (4%)  13 (10%)  
 3 40 (93%) 16 (94%) 24 (92%)  114 (83%)  
 Missing 1 (2%) 1 (4%) — 6 (4%) — 
Mastectomy 
 Total 39 (91%) 16 (94%) 23 (89%) 0.691 117 (85%) 0.662 
 Partial 3 (7%) 1 (6%) 2 (8%)  14 (10%)  
 Not performed 1 (2%) 1 (4%)  6 (4%)  
Chemotherapy 
 Neoadjuvant 17 (40%) 7 (41%) 10 (39%) 0.947 67 (49%) 0.602 
 Adjuvant 17 (40%) 6 (35%) 11 (42%)  46 (34%)  
 Both 9 (21%) 4 (24%) 5 (19%)  21 (15%)  
 None  1 (1%)  
 Missing — 2 (2%) — 
Pathologic complete responsee 
 Yes 15 (58%) 7 (64%) 8 (53%) >0.99 39 (44%) 0.362 
 No 10 (39%) 4 (36%) 6 (40%)  44 (50%)  
 Missing 1 (4%) 1 (7%) — 5 (6%) — 
Treatment with platinum-based chemotherapy 
 Yes 23 (53%) 7 (41%) 16 (62%) 0.225 62 (45%) 0.484 
 No 20 (47%) 10 (59%) 10 (38%)  72 (53%)  
 Missing — 3 (2%) — 
Radiotherapy 
 Yes 30 (70%) 12 (71%) 18 (69%) >0.99 101 (74%) 0.695 
 No 13 (30%) 5 (29%) 5 (29%)  36 (26%)  
Risk-reducing surgeries 
 Contralateral mastectomyf 14 (33%) 5 (29%) 9 (35%) >0.99 2 (2%) <0.001 
 Salpingo-oophorectomy 17 (40%) 8 (47%) 9 (35%) 0.528 <0.001 
Second primary malignancy 
 Any site 11 (36%) 7 (41%) 4 (15%) 0.080 10 (7%) 0.002 
 Breast 7 (64%) 4 (57%) 3 (75%) — 5 (50%)  
 Ovarian 3 (27%) 2 (29%) 1 (25%) — 1 (10%)  
 Thyroid — 2 (20%)  
 Otherg 1 (9%) 1 (14%) — 2 (20%)  
BRCA mutation carriers
All BRCA PV carriersBRCA CNV carriersaOther BRCA PVsbPcNoncarriersPd
n 43 17 26 — 137 — 
Age at diagnosis 
 Median (range) 38 (23–50) 39 (28–50) 37.5 (23–48) 0.784 43 (25–50) <0.001 
 Missing — 1 (1%)  
Bilateral BC 8 (19%) 4 (24%) 4 (15%) 0.692 5 (4%) 0.003 
Stage      — 
 I 5 (12%) 2 (12%) 3 (12%) 0.326 8 (6%) 0.277 
 II 22 (51%) 11 (65%) 11 (42%)  63 (46%)  
 III 16 (37%) 4 (24%) 12 (46%)  66 (48%)  
Nodal status 
 Positive 22 (51%) 6 (35%) 16 (62%) 0.120 93 (68%) 0.095 
 Negative 19 (44%) 10 (59%) 9 (35%)  43 (31%)  
 Missing 2 (5%) 1 (6%) 1 (4%) — 1 (1%) — 
Histologic grade 
 1 >0.999 4 (3%) 0.286 
 2 2 (5%) 1 (6%) 1 (4%)  13 (10%)  
 3 40 (93%) 16 (94%) 24 (92%)  114 (83%)  
 Missing 1 (2%) 1 (4%) — 6 (4%) — 
Mastectomy 
 Total 39 (91%) 16 (94%) 23 (89%) 0.691 117 (85%) 0.662 
 Partial 3 (7%) 1 (6%) 2 (8%)  14 (10%)  
 Not performed 1 (2%) 1 (4%)  6 (4%)  
Chemotherapy 
 Neoadjuvant 17 (40%) 7 (41%) 10 (39%) 0.947 67 (49%) 0.602 
 Adjuvant 17 (40%) 6 (35%) 11 (42%)  46 (34%)  
 Both 9 (21%) 4 (24%) 5 (19%)  21 (15%)  
 None  1 (1%)  
 Missing — 2 (2%) — 
Pathologic complete responsee 
 Yes 15 (58%) 7 (64%) 8 (53%) >0.99 39 (44%) 0.362 
 No 10 (39%) 4 (36%) 6 (40%)  44 (50%)  
 Missing 1 (4%) 1 (7%) — 5 (6%) — 
Treatment with platinum-based chemotherapy 
 Yes 23 (53%) 7 (41%) 16 (62%) 0.225 62 (45%) 0.484 
 No 20 (47%) 10 (59%) 10 (38%)  72 (53%)  
 Missing — 3 (2%) — 
Radiotherapy 
 Yes 30 (70%) 12 (71%) 18 (69%) >0.99 101 (74%) 0.695 
 No 13 (30%) 5 (29%) 5 (29%)  36 (26%)  
Risk-reducing surgeries 
 Contralateral mastectomyf 14 (33%) 5 (29%) 9 (35%) >0.99 2 (2%) <0.001 
 Salpingo-oophorectomy 17 (40%) 8 (47%) 9 (35%) 0.528 <0.001 
Second primary malignancy 
 Any site 11 (36%) 7 (41%) 4 (15%) 0.080 10 (7%) 0.002 
 Breast 7 (64%) 4 (57%) 3 (75%) — 5 (50%)  
 Ovarian 3 (27%) 2 (29%) 1 (25%) — 1 (10%)  
 Thyroid — 2 (20%)  
 Otherg 1 (9%) 1 (14%) — 2 (20%)  

Abbreviation: BC, breast cancer.

aAll BRCA CNV were BRCA1 ex9–12del (Mexican founder mutation).

bAn indel/point PV was identified in BRCA1 in 25 patients and in BRCA2 in one patient.

cP value comparing BRCA CNV carriers versus other BRCA PVs.

dP value comparing All BRCA PV carriers versus noncarriers.

eOnly patients that received neoadjuvant treatment. Missing values are patients who did not undergo surgery (refused the procedure or died before the surgery was performed).

fAnalysis restricted to contralateral mastectomy in patients without bilateral breast cancer (wherein the procedure is therapeutic).

gOther sites of second primary malignancies were cervical in situ cancer, vulvar in situ cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosed in a single noncarrier of BRCA PVs, chondrosarcoma in another noncarrier patient, and bladder cancer in a BRCA Mexican founder mutation carrier.

Regarding general treatment strategies, no statistically significant differences were observed according to mutational status. Overall, 47% were treated with platinum-based chemotherapy regimens and none were treated with PARPi.

A total of 21 patients presented with a second primary malignancy during the follow-up period. In the BRCA CNV carrier group, second primaries were identified in the breast, ovaries, and bladder, while BRCA point mutation carriers were diagnosed with second primaries only in the contralateral breast and ovaries (Supplementary Table S2). BRCA PV carriers experienced a higher rate of second primary malignancies than noncarriers (36% vs. 7%; P = 0.002), with patients in the BRCA CNV group demonstrating a greater tendency, albeit nonsignificant, toward being diagnosed with a second cancer compared with other PV carriers (41% vs. 15%; P = 0.080).

Survival Estimates

A total of 28 patients died during the follow-up period. The absence of deaths in the BRCA CNV group during the follow-up period is noteworthy. In contrast, 19% of carriers of other BRCA PVs and 17% of noncarriers experienced death. Of note, all deaths documented were attributed to the primary breast malignancy. Survival rates at 5 and 10 years are shown in Table 3.

TABLE 3

Survival outcomes at 5 and 10 years according to BRCA status.

BRCA PVs carriers
OutcomeAll BRCA PV carriersBRCA CNV carriersOther BRCA PVs carriersNoncarriers of BRCA PVs
OS 
 At 5 years 90.7% (77.1–96.4%) 100% (80.5–100%) 84.6% (64.0–93.9%) 90.4% (84.1–94.3%) 
 At 10 years 87.3% (71.8–94.6%) 100% (73.5–100%) 78.6% (55.0–90.7%) 84.7% (76.8–90.1%) 
RFS 
 At 5 years 86.1% (71.6–93.5%) 94.1% (65.0–99.2%) 80.8% (59.8–91.5%) 83.8% (76.5–89.1%) 
 At 10 years 83.6 (68.6–91.8%) 87.8% (59.5–96.8%) 80.8% (59.8–91.5%) 77.8% (69.6–84.1%) 
BRCA PVs carriers
OutcomeAll BRCA PV carriersBRCA CNV carriersOther BRCA PVs carriersNoncarriers of BRCA PVs
OS 
 At 5 years 90.7% (77.1–96.4%) 100% (80.5–100%) 84.6% (64.0–93.9%) 90.4% (84.1–94.3%) 
 At 10 years 87.3% (71.8–94.6%) 100% (73.5–100%) 78.6% (55.0–90.7%) 84.7% (76.8–90.1%) 
RFS 
 At 5 years 86.1% (71.6–93.5%) 94.1% (65.0–99.2%) 80.8% (59.8–91.5%) 83.8% (76.5–89.1%) 
 At 10 years 83.6 (68.6–91.8%) 87.8% (59.5–96.8%) 80.8% (59.8–91.5%) 77.8% (69.6–84.1%) 

NOTE: Data are shown as Kaplan–Meier estimate (95% CI).

OS was 86.3% (95% CI, 80.0–90.7) for the whole cohort at ten years after diagnosis of TNBC. Overall, no statistically significant differences were observed in OS between BRCA PV carriers and noncarriers [HR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.25–1.74). However, when comparing BRCA CNV carriers versus carriers of other BRCA PVs (Fig. 1A and B), OS was significantly higher in the former (100% vs. 78.6% at 10 years; log-rank P value of the Kaplan–Meier model = 0.037). OS rates of BRCA CNVs were also numerically superior to noncarriers, although not reaching statistical significance (100% vs. 84.7% at 10 years; log-rank P = 0.06).

FIGURE 1

A, Survival estimates according to BRCA status OS of BRCA germline PVs carriers versus noncarriers. B, OS of carriers of BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV versus carriers of other BRCA PVs. C, RFS of BRCA germline PVs carriers versus noncarriers. D, RFS of carriers of BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV versus carriers of other BRCA PVs.

FIGURE 1

A, Survival estimates according to BRCA status OS of BRCA germline PVs carriers versus noncarriers. B, OS of carriers of BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV versus carriers of other BRCA PVs. C, RFS of BRCA germline PVs carriers versus noncarriers. D, RFS of carriers of BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV versus carriers of other BRCA PVs.

Close modal

The survival advantage observed in the carriers of BRCA CNVs was maintained after exclusion of the one patient in the group of carriers of other BRCA PVs that had a PV in BRCA2 (100% vs. 77.5% at 10 years; two-sided log-rank P value of the Kaplan–Meier model = 0.030). Of note, node-negative patients had 0 of 10 registered deaths in CNV group versus 1 of 9 in other PV group, while node-positive patients had 0 of 6 deaths documented in CNV group and 4 of 16 deaths in the other PV group.

In total, 34 patients experienced disease recurrence. As shown in Table 2, all recurrences documented in BRCA PV carriers and the majority of those experienced by noncarriers were classified as distant disease. Overall, the RFS rate for the whole cohort was 79.2% (95% CI, 72.3–84.6) at ten years after diagnosis of TNBC. No statistically significant differences were observed in RFS between groups (Table 3; Fig. 1C and D).

In this study, we explored the survival outcomes of a cohort of BRCA-characterized women with TNBC aged ≤50 years at diagnosis. Notably, OS rates did not differ significantly between carriers of BRCA PVs and noncarriers. However, when examining subgroups according to BRCA variant type, a survival advantage was observed in the BRCA CNV carrier group. Specifically, the carriers of the BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV in our cohort had a 100% OS rate at 10 years, which was numerically superior to the 10-year OS observed among carriers of other BRCA PVs and noncarriers (78.6% and 84.7%, respectively). We believe that the findings of our study have important clinical prognostic and treatment implications for patients with breast cancer who carry a BRCA PV as they suggest that genotype can exert a differential impact on survival. Further studies confirming the observed difference are needed.

The Mexican BRCA1 founder CNV (BRCA1 ex9–12del) is one of the most frequently reported population-specific CNVs (24). It is characterized by a deletion of 14.7 kilobases, which results in the loss of multiple functional protein domains and premature BRCA truncation. Specifically, the BRCA1 ex9–12del CNV results in the complete loss of the p53, pRB, Rad50, Rad51, NLS1, and NLS2 interacting domains, and partial loss of the ERα domain (20). This aberration was first reported in 2007 after it was detected in 3.8% of unrelated Hispanic American families that had a personal history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer (20). In our referral center, it has been reported that this PV accounts for 35% of BRCA-associated ovarian cancer cases and 29% of BRCA-associated breast cancer cases (24). The remarkable frequency of the Mexican BRCA1 founder mutation, particularly in women originating from Central and Southern Mexico, constitutes a regional public health problem. Given its high prevalence in our setting, we employed the BRCA1 ex9–12del genotype to analyze if CNVs have a different prognostic impact than point mutations in the same gene.

Previous studies have raised the possibility of BRCA PVs having a different prognostic impact based on factors other than their germline presence. For example, a meta-analysis by Xie and colleagues showed that, although the presence of BRCA1 PVs had no correlation with prognosis in patients with breast cancer, BRCA1 promoter methylation was associated with worse survival outcomes (10). Hollis and colleagues summarized the evidence regarding the implications of different germline BRCA PVs in ovarian cancer and concluded that aberrations at particular BRCA1 sites could confer differential sensitivity to platinum-based chemotherapy and PARPi (14). Furthermore, a study of patients with ovarian cancer showed that the presence of BRCA2 PVs in the ovarian cancer cluster region was associated with a better RFS than those in breast cancer cluster regions and not-related risk regions (25). Drost and colleagues investigated mice carrying the BRCA1185stop and BRCA15382stop alleles (which mimic the most common human BRCA1 founder mutations) and showed that the BRCA1185stop mice responded markedly worse to HRR deficiency–targeting therapies (13). Together, these studies suggest that not all BRCA PVs have the same impact on tumor phenotype, treatment response, or survival outcomes.

Reversion mutations are secondary alterations in a mutant allele that restore partial or complete protein functionality by reverting an initial frameshift mutation into an in-frame internal deletion (26). In BRCA-associated breast tumors, the appearance of acquired somatic reversion mutations has been described as a potent oncogenic event to resist unwanted DNA damage though the restoration of BRCA expression (27). Thus, the development of reversion mutations in BRCA PV carriers with breast cancer could have an adverse prognostic impact by limiting the effectiveness of DNA-damaging treatment strategies such as platinum-based chemotherapy regimens. The clinical significance of reversion mutations was illustrated by Lin and colleagues in a study where the absence of BRCA reversion mutations in circulating cell-free DNA of patients with ovarian cancer was associated with a significantly longer rucaparib progression-free survival (16).

Recently, it was reported in a small study that patients with ovarian cancer harboring the Mexican BRCA1 founder CNVs had a better RFS than those with other types of BRCA1 PVs (25). However, the prognostic role of CNV such as the Mexican BRCA1 founder mutation on BC had not been previously reported. We postulate that the significantly enhanced OS in the BRCA1 ex9–12del PV carrier group found in our cohort occurs secondary to the inability of reversion mutations to restore the vast deletion associated with this CNV. We believe that patients with TNBC who carry this PV could tend toward sustained responses to DNA-damaging therapies (such as chemotherapy regimens based on the use of platinum or anthracyclines plus alkylating agents; refs. 28, 29), and this may also relate to trend in survival when comparing CNV carriers to noncarriers. However, the precise mechanisms underlying the observed differences among Mexican BRCA1 founder mutation carriers and other BRCA PVs are presently unknown and warrant further study.

Our study has several limitations. Full sequencing for BRCA PVs was not undertaken and was limited to those included in the HISPANEL assay (sensitivity 77%; ref. 24). Therefore, some of the patients classified as noncarriers of BRCA mutations could carry PVs that were not detected using our methodology. However, we believe any bias introduced by misattributed cases would not affect the survival analysis of CNV carriers versus other PV carriers. In addition, the HISPANEL assay does not identify PVs in other breast cancer susceptibility genes, which could have been present in some of our patients. Few panel genes (e.g., PALB2) have evidence for impact on survival or evidence for benefit from DNA-damaging therapies. Again, misattribution would not affect the survival advantage observed in CNV carriers compared with other PV carriers. The cohort selected for this analysis is limited by the small sample size and could be subject to survivorship bias as a median of 37.5 months had elapsed from breast cancer diagnosis to study inclusion. Therefore, patients with poor survival could have been disproportionately excluded, and this could be responsible in part for the relatively favorable outcomes for the entire study population. However, as all groups were subject to the same bias, we believe the study's subsequent prospective outcomes are still valid. Moreover, the follow-up after inclusion was long, and OS and RFS calculated from time of study accrual demonstrated the same tendencies toward improved survival in the carriers of BRCA CNV group. Notably, all deaths registered in BRCA PV carriers were attributable to breast cancer. Hence, breast cancer–specific survival was essentially equivalent to OS in BRCA carriers, and the differences we observed were not due to mortality from a second primary malignancy. Nonetheless, it is possible that the benefit observed in survival outcomes in CNV carriers was influenced by a lower prevalence of lymph node invasion and stage III disease. The only large CNV observed in our cohort was the Mexican BRCA1 founder mutation, which limits the extrapolation of the prognostic impact of CNVs observed in this study to other BRCA CNVs. However, we suggest that any CNV with a comparably large deletion would limit the potential for reversion mutations and result in improved survival. Finally, due to the retrospective nature of this study, no adjustment for multiple hypothesis testing was performed. Hence, an inflation of type I error due to multiple testing cannot be excluded. Combined with the issues listed above, this underscores the need to interpret the results of this study as hypothesis-generating and independent validation is required. Despite these limitations, we believe that this analysis provides evidence supporting a survival impact from specific BRCA genotypes, with a plausible mechanistic underpinning.

In conclusion, this study demonstrates that the type of germline BRCA PV can influence survival after treatment for BC. We demonstrated that patients with TNBC with the BRCA1 ex9–12del had statistically better OS than carriers of other BRCA PVs. This could have important prognostic and clinical implications. Future studies are needed to confirm these findings and test if the observed survival differences are due to different susceptibility to reversion mutations or other factors.

C. Villarreal-Garza reports grants and personal fees from AstraZeneca; grants, personal fees, and non-financial support from Roche; personal fees from Myriad Genetics, Novartis, Eli Lilly; personal fees and non-financial support from Pfizer, and personal fees and non-financial support from MSD Oncology outside the submitted work. P. Frankel reports grants from City of Hope “NIH Grant Support” during the conduct of the study. J.N. Weitzel reports grants from NCI during the conduct of the study; personal fees from AstraZeneca “Speakers bureau” outside the submitted work. No disclosures were reported by the other authors.

C. Villarreal-Garza: Conceptualization, resources, data curation, formal analysis, investigation, writing-original draft, project administration, writing-review and editing. A.S. Ferrigno: Data curation, formal analysis, investigation, writing-original draft, writing-review and editing. A. Aranda-Gutierrez: Data curation, formal analysis, investigation, writing-original draft, writing-review and editing. P. H. Frankel: Formal analysis, investigation, methodology, writing-review and editing. N.H. Ruel: Data curation, formal analysis, methodology, writing-review and editing. A. Fonseca: Data curation, investigation, writing-review and editing. S. Narod: Resources, investigation, writing-review and editing. Y. Chavarri-Guerra: Data curation, writing-original draft, writing-review and editing. E. Sifuentes: Data curation, writing-review and editing. M.C. Magallanes-Hoyos: Resources, data curation, writing-review and editing. J. Herzog: Data curation, investigation, writing-review and editing. D. Castillo: Data curation, investigation, writing-review and editing. R.M. Alvarez-Gomez: Resources, data curation, writing-review and editing. A. Mohar-Betancourt: Resources, supervision, investigation, writing-review and editing. J.N. Weitzel: Conceptualization, resources, data curation, formal analysis, funding acquisition, investigation, methodology, writing-original draft, writing-review and editing.

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Supplementary data