There is still a role for cytology in the ‘liquid biopsy’ era. A lesson from a TKI-treated patient showing adenocarcinoma to squamous cell carcinoma transition during disease progression

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Non-small cell lung carcinoma harbouring epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutation, usually progress after an initial response to tyrosine-kinase inhibitors (TKI). Liquid biopsy enables with a simple blood draw the accurate detection of EGFR p.T790M mutation, the most common resistance mechanism, avoiding the more invasive tissue re-biopsy. However, in a subset of cases, resistance mechanisms are more complex featuring both genetic and morphological changes. Here we report the case of a 67 years-old woman, affected by an EGFR mutated lung adenocarcinoma and treated by TKI. At disease progression, the patient developed a morphological transition to squamous cell carcinoma in association to the arising of a PIK3CA p.E542K mutant subclone. This case illustrates that, even in the “liquid biopsy” era, cytology can have still a role by providing an overall assessment of both morphology and genetic TKI resistance mechanisms.

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