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Keywords:

  • Clonality;
  • Permutation test;
  • Second primary cancers

Summary Cancer investigators frequently conduct studies to examine tumor samples from pairs of apparently independent primary tumors with a view to determine whether they share a “clonal” origin. The genetic fingerprints of the tumors are compared using a panel of markers, often representing loss of heterozygosity (LOH) at distinct genetic loci. In this article we evaluate candidate significance tests for this purpose. The relevant information is derived from the observed correlation of the tumors with respect to the occurrence of LOH at individual loci, a phenomenon that can be evaluated using Fisher's exact test. Information is also available from the extent to which losses at the same locus occur on the same parental allele. Data from these combined sources of information can be evaluated using a simple adaptation of Fisher's exact test. The test statistic is the total number of loci at which concordant mutations occur on the same parental allele, with higher values providing more evidence in favor of a clonal origin for the two tumors. The test is shown to have high power for detecting clonality for plausible models of the alternative (clonal) hypothesis, and for reasonable numbers of informative loci, preferably located on distinct chromosomal arms. The method is illustrated using studies to identify clonality in contralateral breast cancer. Interpretation of the results of these tests requires caution due to simplifying assumptions regarding the possible variability in mutation probabilities between loci, and possible imbalances in the mutation probabilities between parental alleles. Nonetheless, we conclude that the method represents a simple, powerful strategy for distinguishing independent tumors from those of clonal origin.