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This article is the author’s final published version in Journal of Medical Case Reports, Volume 15, Issue 1, April 2021, Article number 252.

The published version is available at Copyright © Patel et al.

Publication made possible in part by support from the Jefferson Open Access Fund


BACKGROUND: Aggressive squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) present frequently in the context of chronic skin injury occurring in patients with the congenital blistering disease recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa. Recently, these cancers were shown to harbor mutation signatures associated with endogenous deaminases of the active polynucleotide cytosine deaminase family, collectively termed APOBEC, and clock-like COSMIC [Catalogue of Somatic Mutations in Cancer] signatures, which are associated with normal aging and might result from cumulative DNA replication errors. We present a case of a nasal septal SCC arising in the context of recurrent injury, but also modest past tobacco use. Our genetic analysis of this tumor reveals unusually high APOBEC and clock-like but low tobacco-related COSMIC signatures, suggesting that chronic injury may have played a primary role in somatic mutation. This case report demonstrates how signature-based analyses may implicate key roles for certain mutagenic forces in individual malignancies such as head-and-neck SCC, with multiple etiological origins.

CASE PRESENTATION: We report the case of a 43-year-old male former smoker who presented with congestion and swelling following a traumatic nasal fracture. During surgery, the mucosa surrounding the right nasal valve appeared abnormal, and biopsies revealed invasive keratinizing SCC. Frozen section biopsies revealed multiple areas to be positive for SCC. Gene sequencing showed loss of PTEN (exons 2-8), CDKN2A/B and TP53 (exons 8-9), MYC amplification, and BLM S338*. Exome sequencing data also revealed that 36% of mutations matched an APOBEC mutational signature (COSMIC signatures 2 and 13) and 53% of mutations matched the clock-like mutation signature (COSMIC signature 5). These proportions place this tumor in the 90th percentile bearing each signature, independently, in a reference data set combining cutaneous and The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) head and neck SCC data. In contrast, few mutations harbored a tobacco-related COSMIC signature 4, representing about the 10th percentile in our reference SCC data set. The patient was treated with partial rhinectomy with local flap reconstruction, bilateral neck dissection, and adjuvant radiation therapy; the patient remains disease-free to date.

CONCLUSION: Based on comparative mutational signature analysis, we propose that the history of tobacco use and traumatic injury may have collaborated in activating APOBEC enzymes and the clock-like mutational process, ultimately leading to cancer formation. Clinical awareness of the relationship between epithelial injury and tumorigenesis should enhance earlier detection of this particularly aggressive type of cancer.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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