Heterogeneity and renal mass biopsy: a review of its role and reliability

Jeffrey J. Tomaszewski, Robert G. Uzzo, Marc C. Smaldone

Abstract


Increased abdominal imaging has led to an increase in the detection of the incidental small renal mass (SRM). With increasing recognition that the malignant potential of SRMs is heterogeneous, ranging from benign (15%-20%) to aggressive (20%), enthusiasm for more conservative management strategies in the elderly and infirmed, such as active surveillance (AS), have grown considerably. As the management of the SRM evolves to incorporate ablative techniques and AS for low risk disease, the role of renal mass biopsy (RMB) to help guide individualized therapy is evolving. Historically, the role of RMB was limited to the evaluation of suspected metastatic disease, renal abscess, or lymphoma. However, in the contemporary era, the role of biopsy has grown, most notably to identify patients who harbor benign lesions and for whom treatment, particularly the elderly or frail, may be avoided. When performing a RMB to guide initial clinical decision making for small, localized tumors, the most relevant questions are often relegated to proof of malignancy and documentation (if possible) of grade. However, significant intratumoral heterogeneity has been identified in clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) that may lead to an underestimation of the genetic complexity of a tumor when single-biopsy procedures are used. Heterogeneous genomic landscapes and branched parallel evolution of ccRCCs with spatially separated subclones creates an illusion of clonal dominance when assessed by single biopsies and raises important questions regarding how tumors can be optimally sampled and whether future evolutionary tumor branches might be predictable and ultimately targetable. This work raises profound questions concerning the genetic landscape of cancer and how tumor heterogeneity may affect, and possibly confound, targeted diagnostic and therapeutic interventions. In this review, we discuss the current role of RMB, the implications of tumor heterogeneity on diagnostic accuracy, and highlight promising future directions.

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