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Familial colorectal cancer (CRC) is a major public health problem by virtue of its relatively high frequency. Some 15-20% of all CRCs are familial. Among these, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), caused by germline mutations in the APC gene, accounts for less than 1%. Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also called Lynch syndrome, accounts for approximately 5-8% of all CRC patients. Among these, some 3% are mutation positive, that is, caused by germline mutations in the DNA mismatch repair genes that have so far been implicated (MLH1, MSH2, MSH6, PMS1, and PMS2). Most of the remaining patients belonging to HNPCC or HNPCC-like families are still molecularly unexplained. Among the remaining familial CRCs, a large proportion is probably caused by gene mutations and polymorphisms of low penetrance, of which the I1307K polymorphism in the APC gene is a prime example.
Molecular genetic findings have enabled hereditary CRC to be divided into two groups: (1) tumours that show microsatellite instability (MSI), occur more frequently in the right colon, have diploid DNA, harbour characteristic mutations such as transforming growth factor β type II receptor and BAX, and behave indolently, of which HNPCC is an example; and (2) tumours with chromosomal instability (CIN), which tend to be left sided, show aneuploid DNA, harbour characteristic mutations such as K-ras, APC, and p53, and behave aggressively, of which FAP is an example.
This review focuses most heavily on the clinical features, pathology, molecular genetics, surveillance, and management including prophylactic surgery in HNPCC. Because of the difficulty in diagnosing HNPCC, a detailed differential diagnosis of the several hereditary CRC variants is provided. The extant genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity in CRC leads to the conclusion that it is no longer appropriate to discuss the genetics of CRC without defining the specific hereditary CRC syndrome of concern. Therefore, it is important to ascertain cancer of all anatomical sites, as well as non-cancer phenotypic stigmata (such as the perioral and mucosal pigmentations in Peutz-Jeghers syndrome), when taking a family cancer history.
Keywords: colorectal cancer; hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer; genetic susceptibility