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Hereditary mixed polyposis syndrome (HMPS)


Hereditary mixed polyposis syndrome (HMPS)

Hereditary mixed polyposis syndrome (HMPS OMIM 601228) is a mixed colorectal tumour syndrome which was originally linked to the CRAC1 locus on 15q13-14 (Thomas et al. 1996; Jaeger et al. 2003). It is a rare condition found in a few families of Ashkenazi descent, with an autosomal dominant inheritance, mixed juvenile, adenomatous and hyperplastic polyps, as well as colorectal cancer (Whitelaw et al. 1997). The best screening protocol for polyps in HMPS is not clear as the condition is rare.

Genome-wide association revealed common low-penetrance predisposition alleles at the CRAC1 locus which are linked to sporadic colorectal cancer risk (Jaeger et al. 2008). The gene which causes HMPS was subsequently identified as a 40kb duplication upstream of the gene GREM1 at the CRAC1 locus (Jaeger et al 2012) which causes disruption of the BMP / TGF-beta signalling pathway, a pathway also disrupted in Juvenile Polyposis Syndrome.

Simon Leedham showed that epithelial expression of GREM1 also occurs in traditional serrated adenomas, sporadic premalignant lesions with a hitherto unknown pathogenesis, and these lesions can be considered the sporadic equivalents of HMPS polyps (Davis et al. 2015).  They also elucidated the synergistic interaction of GREM1 with an activated Wnt signalling pathway.

Duplication upstream of GREM1

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Lynch Syndrome and other non-polyposis inherited cancer syndromes


Lynch Syndrome / Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) and related syndromes

Lynch Syndrome (OMIM 120435)) is a familial cancer syndrome which accounts for approximately 2.2-4% of all colorectal cancer in the USA (Hampel et al. 2005) and 2-3% of the total in the UK.  It was also known as Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer Syndrome (HNPCC), however the phenotype is more complex with multiple extracolonic tumours, for example, so this term has now been largely abandoned.

An Irish family tree with Lynch Syndrome caused by an inherited mutation in MSH2.  Members of this family are affected predominantly with colorectal cancer (CRC), but also small bowel cancer (SBCa), Gastric, Pancreatic, Uterine and other cancers, as well as conditions not linked to Lynch Syndrome such as Crohn’s disease.

LS is an autosomally dominant inherited condition commonly caused by germline mutation in one of four DNA mismatch repair genes, MLH1, MSH2, MSH6 and PMS2, involved with the mismatch repair (MMR) pathway. This pathway functions to identify and remove single nucleotide mismatches or insertions and deletion loops. Mutations in four of the MMR genes can cause Lynch syndrome [Peltomaki 2003]. The functions of the mismatch repair genes can be disrupted by missense mutations, truncating mutations, splice site mutations, large deletions, or genomic rearrangements. In addition, germline deletion within EPCAM, which is not an MMR gene, can disrupt the MMR pathway. EPCAM deletions result in inactivating the adjacent MMR gene MSH2, even though MSH2 itself has not been mutated.

Identification of LS Families

A minority of Lynch Syndrome families may be identified because they have multiple affected members diagnosed at an early age.   The Amsterdam Criteria I and II (Vasen et al. 1993; Vasen et al. 1999)(see below) identify patients for colonoscopic and other screening.  Approximately 40-80% of patients meet these criteria, with 50% of the remainder meeting the modified criteria which include extracolonic cancers.  The revised Bethesda criteria (Umar et al. 2004) are used to identify patients for molecular screening of HNPCC, i.e. microsatellite instability ± immunohistochemistry studies.  Approximately 80% of patients are identified using the Bethesda criteria, although the specificity is low.

Immunohistochemistry and microsatellite instability analysis for Lynch Syndrome

Amsterdam I Criteria

  • ≥3 1st degree relatives with colorectal cancer (CRC)
  • ≥2 generations affected
  • One family member below age 50 years of age
  • Exclude familial adenomatous polyposis

Amsterdam II Criteria

  • As for Amsterdam I except that CRC may be substituted by cancer of endometrium, small bowel, or pelviureter.

Most families with LS, however, do not fulfil the Amsterdam criteria. The Revised Bethesda criteria are another set of diagnostic criteria designed to increase the diagnostic yield of testing for LS [7]. For example, all individuals diagnosed under the age of 50 years should be tested for the molecular features of LS in their tumours.  If molecular testing is diagnostic of LS, it can subsequently determine which families should undergo colonoscopic and other investigations, and to screen other high risk family members. The Revised Bethesda guidelines are designed to streamline the clinical diagnostic pathways used to identify mutation carriers in patients with colorectal cancer who might or might not fulfil the Amsterdam criteria, thus increasing diagnostic yield screening for LS.

The identification of such families with Lynch syndrome involves an extensive diagnostic work up comprising various screening tools combined with genetic and immunohistochemical tests.  Initially the tumour from an affected individual may be tested for features suggestive of this condition by either immunohistochemistry of the mismatch repair proteins and/or DNA microsatellite instability (a hallmark of faulty DNA mismatch repair).  If either of these tests are abnormal, then germline testing may be performed to identify a putative heritable mutation in one of the causative genes.

Patient selection using Amsterdam and revised Bethesda criteria have been applied to clinical pathways in the United Kingdom through the use of national guidelines.  Given the implication of family history and known mortality benefit, the early recognition of Lynch syndrome is highly desirable. There have been concerns over the sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value of already existing guidelines. About 22% of affected individuals do not fulfil either Amsterdam or the Revised Bethesda criteria. As Barnetson et al argues, there might be multiple reasons for this such as small family size, unknown or inadequately taken family history, adoption, and patients without available tumour data [9]. A number of alternative screening models have been developed, such as MMRpredict, PREMM 1,2,6, MMRPro, and MsPath whilst searching for a careening tool that is simple, accurate, and clinically useful for predicting the likelihood of Lynch Syndrome.

Bethesda (revised) Criteria (Umar et al 2003)

  • 1 CRC below age 50 yr
  • Multiple CRC or HNPCC-related cancers
  • CRC with MSI-related histology under 60 years of age
  • CRC or HNPCC-related cancer in ≥1 1st degree relative, < 50 years of age
  • CRC or HNPCC-related cancer in at least two 1st or 2nd degree relatives, any age

MSI-type Histology: Using the revised Bethesda Criteria patients aged 50-60 years should have tumour testing

There is a slight preponderance of right-sided tumours (70% proximal to the splenic flexure) in Lynch Syndrome.  It is a highly penetrant condition which also features extracolonic cancers such as endometrial and gastric cancer.  The adenoma to carcinoma sequence is rapid with interval cancers occurring in 5% of patients despite two-yearly colonoscopic surveillance (Jarvinen, Aarnio et al. 2000).  The tumours are characteristically associated with a local lymphocytic infiltrate and a good prognosis when surgically resected (Jass 2000; Takemoto et al. 2004).

Screening tumours for Lynch Syndrome – is it cost effective?

There are clinical and economic trade-offs when implementing screening protocol on a large scale. As nondirected germline mutation testing for Lynch syndrome is prohibitively expensive at £1000 per gene, MSI and IHC are the screening tests of choice. In view of high costs of testing of all colorectal cancers for MSI or loss or MMR protein, an approach described by Heather Hampel of The Ohio State University, the Revised Bethesda Guidelines were felt to be an appropriate tool to select patients for genetic testing. However, the question remains open: is the “reflex” molecular tumour testing justified clinically and economically? Kastrinos et al, have looked into the popularity of the universal testing across several centres in US. Unsurprisingly, a pessimistic picture emerged showing the low uptake of the concept. The benefits of the universal testing are counterbalanced by practical problems such as an informed consent controversy, practicalities of dealing with the complexity of test results and the resultant implications. The fact that the cost effectiveness of this approach has not been yet validated plays heavily against such approach.

In US, Ramsey et al have carried out a study looking at cost-effectiveness of different strategies for identifying of persons with Lynch syndrome. The average cost per carrier detected using Bethesda guidelines was $15,787, and expanding this strategy to include costs and benefits for first degree relatives greatly improves the cost effectiveness of the program. Expanding the program to first degree relatives leads to savings from intensive screening to exceed the cost of testing.

In Europe, Pinol et al, has carried out a similar study evaluating cost-minimization analysis of identification strategies for MSH2/MLH1-associated Lynch syndrome. Authors concluded that clinical selection of patients using the Revised Bethesda Guidelines followed by either MSI analysis (€11,989 per detected mutation) or IHC (€10,644 per detected mutation) has proved to be more cost effective than performing any of these tests directly (€32,140 and €37,956 per detected mutation, respectively).

Further research has been carried out by Dinh et al in 2010 looking at the cost effectiveness of MMR gene mutations screening, and reached the conclusion that it is comparable to that of already established cancer screening protocols such as colorectal, cervical, and breast cancer screening. Authors argue that primary screening of individuals for MMR gene mutations, starting with the risk assessment between the ages of 25 and 35, followed by genetic testing of those whose risk exceeds 5%, is a strategy that could improve health outcomes in a cost effective manner relative to current practise with the average cost-effectiveness ratio of $26,000 per QALY.

These results echo several European studies, such as that carried out by Pinol V et al, 2005 in Spain, where authors suggest that MSI and IHC testing are equivalent strategies in terms of cost effectiveness when it comes to screening selected patients for MMR mutations

Large bowel surveillance for Lynch syndrome family members and gene carriers

Total colonic surveillance (at least biennial) should commence at age 25 years. Surveillance colonoscopy every 18 months may be appropriate because of the occurrence of interval cancers in some series.  Surveillance should continue to age 7075 years or until co-morbidity makes it clinically inappropriate. If a causative mutation is identified in a relative and the consultand is a non-carrier, surveillance should cease and measures to counter general population risk should be applied.

The effectiveness of colonoscopic surveillance for people with MMR gene mutations and Lynch family members has been examined in retrospective casecontrol comparisons. Screened individuals were compared to control subjects who declined, or did not receive, regular colonoscopy with respect to outcomes of cancer incidence, tumour stage and mortality, or mortality alone. Surveillance appears to provide an average of 7 years of extra life for Lynch syndrome family members.  Thus, available evidence supports regular colonoscopic surveillance as a means of early colorectal cancer detection, leading to mortality reduction as well as reduction in cancer incidence.

Surveillance should consist of total colonoscopy, since the risk of polyps and cancer is high and a substantial proportion of patients have neoplasia restricted to the proximal colon.  Colonoscopy is preferable to flexible sigmoidoscopy combined with barium enema. Because the cancer risk is high, it is not appropriate to accept an incomplete colonoscopy until the next surveillance interval. Incomplete colonoscopy should be followed soon after, or even the same day, by completion CT colonography in centres skilled in providing this technique to a high quality, but repeated radiation exposure should be avoided wherever possible. Repeat full colonoscopy or barium enema remain as options. Chromoendoscopy and narrow wavelength visible light (narrow band) endoscopy may have a place in the detection of small or flat lesions, but there is very limited experience and evidence is restricted to descriptive studies of their use in Lynch syndrome surveillance. Hence, the utility of such techniques requires further assessment and is neither recommended nor discouraged in high risk surveillance, but should not replace conventional endoscopic approaches. Evidence for commencing surveillance at 25 years of age is based on observational data that indicate that the risk increases substantially from age 25 in groups defined by family history and in groups defined by presence of a mutation.

Colorectal resection has a place as prophylaxis and for established cancer in Lynch syndrome family members and/or MMR gene carriers.

Patients who have developed a colorectal malignancy and who come from a Lynch syndrome family, or carry a mutation in an MMR gene, should be counselled and offered a surgical procedure that includes both a cancer control element and prophylaxis to counter future cancer risk. At present there is no evidence to guide decision-making on primary prophylactic surgery for patients who do not yet have cancer.

People with MMR gene mutations or those from Amsterdam positive Lynch syndrome families who have cancer will require surgery unless treatment is palliative. Case series evidence shows that the risk of metachronous colorectal cancer is high following segmental resection (16%), but substantially lower after colectomy and ileorectal anastomosis (3%).  Hence, incorporating a prophylactic element to the cancer resection is appropriate. For patients with proximal tumours, colectomy and ileorectal anastomosis is most relevant, but the retained rectum must be screened because cancer risk in the retained rectum is 3% every 3 years for the first 12 years.

Upper gastrointestinal surveillance for Lynch syndrome family members and/or MMR gene carriers

In families manifesting gastric cancer as part of the phenotype, biennial upper gastrointestinal endoscopy should be considered. The evidence is limited and a pragmatic recommendation is to screen from age 50 since the incidence is very low until that age. Surveillance should continue to age 75 or until the causative mutation in that family has been excluded. This recommendation is based on observations that some Lynch syndrome families have a particular propensity for gastric cancer.  There is as yet no evidence that this reduces mortality.

Other non-polyposis predisposition to colorectal neoplasia

About 15% of sporadic colorectal cancers are also microsatellite unstable and feature loss of protein staining on immunohistochemistry but are not caused by germline mutations in mismatch repair genes.  Often they are acquired sporadic type cancers caused by methylation of MLH1.  These associated with a particular genetic pathway which differs from LS by the presence of BRAF V600E mutations, the absence of β-CATENIN exon 3 mutations and a methylator genotype (Young et al. 2005) (Oliveira et al. 2005).  Recently kindreds demonstrating some inheritance of MLH1 promoter methylation have been identified (Suter et al. 2004; Hitchins, Williams et al. 2005), although the evidence for this inherited epimutation is limited to a few case studies and may be related in imprinting (Chong et al. 2007; Hitchins and Ward 2007).

In addition there are a number of families which fulfil Amsterdam criteria but do not demonstrate microsatellite instability (Dove-Edwin, de Jong et al. 2006).  These families are termed by one group familial colorectal cancer type X (Lindor et al. 2005), and have a lower incidence of colorectal cancer occurring at a later age.  The genetic aetiology is not known for these families.

Approximately 93% of colorectal cancer occurs after the age of 50 years, and thus those young patients who develop cancer are likely to have an inherited or other risk factor such as chronic colitis.  The genetic risk is partially made up by inherited mutations which cause HNPCC.  However, there are likely to be a number of other lower penetrance genes which cause cancer predisposition, many of which may have a recessive form of inheritance and few polyps, and therefore a less clearly identifiable phenotype.

Serrated Polyposis Syndrome


The hyperplastic polyp and serrated adenoma pathway

The first series of mixed hyperplastic-adenomatous polyps were described in 1990 (Longacre and Fenoglio-Preiser 1990), and have been an increasingly recognised phenomenon. Most hyperplastic polyps have no malignant potential, although there is now some have malignant potential, especially those with serrated architecture (sessile serrated adenomas – SSAs), large hyperplastic polyps, mixed polyps and polyps on the right side of the colon (Torlakovic et al. 2003).

Classification of hyperplastic polyps

A new understanding of the clinical relevance of hyperplastic polyps has emerged over the past decade (Young and Jass 2010). The simple hyperplastic polyp has itself been subclassified into a goblet cell variant and a microvesicular variant, the latter appear to be the precursors for serrated adenomas and thus colorectal cancer. Serrated adenomas usually have serrations low in the crypts which help differentiate them from hyperplastic polyps.

Intermediate magnification micrograph of a SSA.

Intermediate magnification micrograph of a SSA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, serrated polyps also include a broader spectrum of polyp subtypes ranging from these small common lesions to the recently described sessile serrated adenoma (SS

A), which is often large and proximal with abundant mucin secretion, exaggerated serration, and atypical architecture.  Rarer serrated polyp subtypes with unequivocal dysplasia include traditional serrated adenoma (SA), which combines the dysplastic features of an adenoma with the architectural features of a hyperplastic polyp and the mixed polyp (MP) in which separate hyperplastic and dysplastic elements are combined within a single polyp (see figure). SSA, SA, and MP are described as “advanced serrated polyps” and comprise ∼5% of all serrated polyps retrieved in colonscopy patients. Importantly, these advanced serrated lesions show frequent BRAF mutation and widespread DNA methylation.

Endoscopic appearances of serrated adenomas

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Endoscopic appearance of a flat sessile serrated adenoma with white light

Serrated and hyperplastic polyps present endoscopic features that could help to differentiate them from adenomatous polyps. HPs appear flat and pale and are often covered by a thin film of mucus. They exhibit Kudo type 2 pit pattern typically.  As they are not highly vascular they will appear pale compared to surrounding mucosa using narrow-band imaging (NBI). In addition, chromoendoscopy may be helpful in the endoscopic characterisation of these lesions.

Inherited Colorectal Cancer Syndrome?

An inherited hyperplastic polyposis syndrome (HPS) has also been increasingly recognised (Cohen et al. 1981; Sumner et al. 1981).  It is now more commonly known as serrated polyposis syndrome.  There is no sex predominance and the mean age at diagnosis is around 55 years. HPS has largely been considered a genetic disease, but the pattern of inheritance remains unknown: both autosomal recessive and autosomal dominant patterns have been suggested.    Environmental factors could be partially responsible for the phenotypic differences and model the unknown pattern of inheritance. Smoking, being overweight and some drugs have been postulated as potential risk factors of HPs.

In HPS, multiple serrated polyps develop in the colorectum, and approximately 50% of cases present with at least one CRC (Ferrandez et al. 2004; Young and Jass 2006).  Boparai et al (2011) have recently described an increased risk of CRC [relative risk (RR) = 5.4] and HPS (RR = 39) in first-degree relatives of probands diagnosed with HPS compared to the general population.  Estimates for CRC risk associated with serrated polyposis may range from 7% to 50% and vary with phenotype.

Classification of the Syndrome

In the WHO criteria, Burt and Jass defined HPS as at least five HPs proximal to the sigmoid colon, two of which are > 1 cm diameter, or more than 30 HPs at any site in the large bowel (Burt 2000). Rashid et al, however, used a different classification system, in which HPS was defined as any person with more than 20 HPs, and separate classes were used for patients with large (>1 cm diameter) or multiple (5-10) HPs (Rashid et al. 2000). These differing classification systems reflect a syndrome which may be both genetically and phenotypically heterogeneous, but one which is becoming increasingly recognised.

The serrated pathway to colorectal cancer

Some evidence suggests that some but not all of these tumours develop along a ‘serrated pathway’ separate from the classical adenoma-carcinoma sequence (Sawyer et al. 2002; Spring, Zhao et al. 2006). This serrated pathway involves one group who accumulate BRAF V600E mutations and another separate pathway which involves KRAS mutations(Carvajal-Carmona et al. 2007). In addition the tumours often have methylation of the MLH1 promoter with subsequent microsatellite instability, and other genes such as P16, MGMT, or IGFBP7 may also be epigenetically inactivated. The CIMP phenotype identified by increased levels of methylation in the CpG island marker MINT31(Jass 2005).

HPS (sometimes known as the ‘serrated pathway syndrome’ or ‘serrated pathway syndrome’ (SPS) and sometimes ‘Jass Syndrome’) may, in fact, be a heterogeneous group of conditions leading to sporadic and inherited cases of colorectal neoplasia. There are two alternative clinical criteria for the diagnosis of HPS families (Burt 2000; Rashid, Houlihan et al. 2000). This syndrome is usually associated with somatic mutations in either BRAF or KRAS, but not both together (Carvajal-Carmona, Howarth et al. 2007), providing further evidence of molecular as well as phenotypic heterogeneity. BRAF mutations are associated with low-grade microsatellite instability due to methylation in CpG islands (CIMP)(Young, Jenkins et al. 2007). This may result in loss of expression of DNA repair genes MLH1 and MGMT (O(6)-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase) in dysplastic mixed polyps from HPS patients, possibly as a result of promoter methylation (Oh et al. 2005).

This is a mixed histology polyp from an affected individual in a large hyperplastic polyposis family. It contains both villous, serrated portions, the latter contains a zone of high grade dysplasia with BRAF mutations, the villous section was BRAF wild type.

Linkage analysis in a large family affected with hyperplastic polyposis syndrome demonstrated a maximum parametric LOD score of 2.71 on the short arm of chromosome 8 (8p.21; Monahan et al 2007).  Another group have identified genetic linkage to chromosome 2q32.2-q33.3 with a LOD score of 2.07 (Roberts et al 2011 Fam Cancer).

The Galway Family: A large Irish family affected with Hyperplastic Polyposis Syndrome

Screening

As of this time however, there is no known causative germline mutation responsible for this condition, therefore genetic testing for predisposition is not possible.  Because the natural history of HPS is poorly understood, colonoscopic screening guidelines have not been developed.  Empirically we recommend 5 yearly colonoscopic screening from the age of the earliest known affected relative, or from 45 years of age.

 

Hereditary Colorectal Cancer Syndromes


Hereditary Colorectal Cancer Syndromes.

Low penetrance risk and colorectal cancer: A review


Low penetrance variants and colorectal tumours

Although inherited susceptibility is responsible for 30% of all CRC (Lichtenstein, Holm et al. 2000), high-penetrance mutations in APC, the mismatch repair (MMR) genes, MUTYH, SMAD4, BMPR1A and STK11 account for <5% of cases (Aaltonen et al. 2007).    The nature of the residual inherited susceptibilityto CRC is at present undefined, but a model in which high-riskalleles account for all of the excess inherited risk seems improbable.It is likely that the remaining CRC inherited risk is largely accounted forby common, low penetrance alleles.   These alleles may either predispose directly to colorectal tumourigenesis or may have an additive effect on predisposition.  Candidate alleles studied include variants on known tumour suppressor genes, oncogenes, DNA repair genes, folate metabolising genes, and others.

A global view of the genetic contribution to colorectal cancer.
The highly penetrant causative mutations in familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Lynch syndrome, the hamartomatous polyposis syndromes and other familial conditions underlie cases of colorectal cancer (CRC) that have a strong hereditary component, with little environmental influence. However, there are also several low-penetrance mutations that contribute to CRC susceptibility in an additive way, involving interactions between genes and with environmental factors. As well as accounting for cases of hereditary CRC, these mutations are also likely to contribute to cases of CRC that are classified as ‘sporadic’. In addition, although none has been identified so far, modifier genes are also likely to influence the effects of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to CRC. Therefore, the distinction between ‘sporadic’ and ‘familial’ cases and between ‘genetic’ and ‘environmental’ predisposing factors has become blurred and might be better thought of as a continuum of risks contributing to CRC development. APC, adenomatous polyposis coli; BLM, Bloom syndrome; MMR, mismatch repair; TGFβR2, transforming growth factor-β receptor 2. Nat Rev Cancer 4(10):769-780, 2004

The APC I1307K variant is present in about 6% of Ashkenazi Jews,but is much rarer in those of other ethnic groups. I1307K createsan A8 tract (eight consecutive adenine residues) which appears to be somatically unstable, leadingto frameshift mutations (Laken et al. 1997).  The tumour risk associated with I1307K has been controversial, but most recent reports suggest that it has a relatively small effect (perhaps only 1.5-fold risk of colorectal cancer), suggesting that the A8 tract is only modestly hypermutable (Gryfe et al. 1999).

A number of other low-penetrance alleles have been found with varying degrees of evidence and importance (table 1.1).  The ability to identify these genes and to understand their interactions with other relevant environmental and genetic factors remains important however. It will help to stratify an individual patient’s risk for entry into surveillance programs and to reveal causative factors, allowing more effective prevention strategies.

Genome-wide association studies in cancer

To date a number of genome-wide association studies have been performed in breast (Easton et al. 2007; Stacey et al. 2007; Stacey et al. 2008), lung(Amos et al. 2008), prostate (Gudmundsson et al. 2007; Gudmundsson et al. 2007; Eeles et al. 2008; Gudmundsson et al. 2008), melanoma (Gudbjartsson et al. 2008) as well as colorectal cancer (Broderick et al. 2007; Tomlinson, Webb et al. 2007; Jaeger, Webb et al. 2008; Tomlinson et al. 2008).  Most of these studies have been published over the last 2 years.  The odds ratios for the loci identified range from 1.1 to 1.75, the majority having an odds ratio <1.5 (Easton and Eeles 2008).  There has been a certain amount of replication between these studies, particularly for the locus 8q24 which has been associated with risk of breast, prostate and colorectal cancer in separate studies.  However results so far suggest that these loci account for a small proportion of the overall risk.

(a) GWA studies identify common genetic variants (tag SNPs) associated with disease. (b) These tag SNPs are typically correlated, or in linkage disequilibrium, with other variants. (c–e) Integrating comparative sequence (c), chromatin profiling (d) and predictions of transcription factor binding sites (e) can identify putative functional SNPs (red asterisk). (f) There are a variety of functional assays for validating SNPs with predicted function.

It is difficult to speculate on the true function of these risk alleles.  There appears to be very little epistasis between the 28 loci identified in these 5 cancer types.  None of these loci are involved in DNA repair, frequently a cause of susceptibility to higher penetrance loci.  This may underlie why so many case control studies have failed to yield significant results consistently, as the underlying hypothesis may have been inaccurate.  One might speculate that many of the associations may be driven through their effects on gene expression, particularly as many lie in gene-poor regions.

Most GWAS have not been empowered to detect the effects of polymorphisms with minor allele frequencies (MAFs) <0.05; such variants are therefore sometimes included in the rare variant class. More often, rare variants are considered to be subpolymorphic (MAF <0.01), with very rare or ‘private’ variants having MAF <0.001. Clearly much of the distinction between ‘common disease-common variant’ and ‘rare variant’ models is arbitrary.  Nevertheless it is probably worth arbitrarily defining them in order to illustrate important differences between common and rare variants models, in terms of gene discovery and possible clinical relevance.  For example, the significance of rare variants is such that they are likely to have more biological impact than common variants, having arisen more recently in evolutionary terms (Bodmer and Bonilla 2008).

Rare variants as low-penetrance alleles

 

Rare variants will not be detectable by population association studies based on the use of linked polymorphic markers, even with very large case/control cohort studies.  This is because of low allelic frequency and individually small contributions to the overall inherited susceptibility of a disease.  These variants are less common than those studied in association studies (i.e. minor allele frequency (MAF) <0.05) but not as rare as obvious mutations (MAF >0.01), although such mutations may also be identified.  Finding rare variants requires nomination of candidate genes likely to have a role in disease aetiology, which are then directly screened for sequence variants which may affect protein function.  This is known as the ‘common-disease/rare-variant’ hypothesis (Pritchard 2001).

Allele frequency and effect sizes for genetic variants associated with colorectal cancer. Hindorff L A et al. Carcinogenesis 2011;32:945-954

So far there have been few rare variants identified in colorectal cancer, partially because candidate genes are not easily identified, and because there have only been a few studies performed.   In one such study variants in APC I1307K and E1317Q, in AXIN1, CTNNB1, and the mismatch repair genes hMLH1 and hMSH2 were more common in 124 multiple adenoma cases than in controls (Fearnhead et al. 2004).   Studies of other candidate genes have produced results of low or no significance however (Dallosso et al. 2008; Zogopoulos et al. 2008).

Labelling APC I1307K a rare variant may not be accurate, as the frequency of the polymorphism in the Ashkenazi population where it is present is 6%, thus potentially suitable for large association studies.  This distinction underlines the arbitrary nature of how such polymorphisms are labelled as rare or common variants.

Although the population attributable risk (PAR) of rare variants may be relatively high, the relative influence of these common variants is low, with reported odds ratios below 2 and peaking at approximately 1.2 (Easton and Eeles 2008).  Most rare variants have odds ratios a little higher than 2 but not above 5, with a mean of 3.7 in observations thus far (Bodmer and Bonilla 2008).  Their individual contributions are small, and they do not give rise to familial concentrations of cases.  As techniques improve to interrogate genetic sequence in an inexpensive, high-throughput and efficient manner this method of identifying variants is likely to generate a higher yield of significant results in the near future.

A candidate gene approach demonstrated rare novel low penetrance breast cancer predisposition loci in three genes, PALB2, BRIP1, and RAD51C.  (Seal et al 2006; Rahman et al 2007; Meindl et al 2010).   This discovery was assisted by the identification of breast cancer cases in Fanconi Anaemia pedigrees.  In general however, it is not a simple task to prioritize candidates for rare variant studies.  In the short term, it is likely that discovery efforts will be focused largely on sequencing candidate genes. Nevertheless, it is becoming feasible to sequence entire genomes to discover variants, due to decreased costs and increased efficiency of such methods.  In a proof of principle study, complete exomic sequencing of a patient with familial pancreatic cancer identified a germline truncating mutation in PALB2 which appeared responsible for this individual’s predisposition to the disease (Jones et al 2009), although mutations in this gene are thought to be rare events in familial pancreatic cancer (Tischkowitz et al 2010).

The above mentioned rare variant loci for breast cancer in PALB2, BRIP1, and RAD51C were present in 10, 8 and 2 cases and 0, 1 and 0 controls respectively.  Due to lack of power rare variants are difficult to validate by frequency alone in an association-type study. If we assume that a single variant or a set of related variants (for example, in the same gene) occurs at a general population frequency of 0.01–0.001, as many as 1000 unselected cases or controls will be required to detect with probability of about 0.7 more than one variant in a discovery screen (Bodmer & Tomlinson 2010).

Nevertheless, in principle the more common a variant is in the population the less its biological impact, thus allowing it to be passed on through generations without affecting reproductive ability.  Rare variants are likely to reveal more about the pathophysiology of the disease process than common variants, as they are likely to have functional significance, as opposed to common variants which are probably in linkage disequilibrium with the causative mutations.

However it is more problematic to design useful studies of rare variants, as random variation identified cannot be readily assumed to be of functional significance, for example over 1500 variants of uncertain significance (VUSs) have been identified in BRCA1 using a sequencing based approach in breast cancer cases.  The difficulty with rare variant discovery, particularly with whole exomic sequence analysis, will be to sort out the candidate functional variation from an almost overwhelming background of functionally irrelevant variation.  The choice of targets will, in general, require some a priori assessment of functional effects.  In silico biometric approaches have been developed with increasing predictive ability, although in vitro demonstration of effects are generally preferable in order to determine functional effects, for example simple effects on expression or protein truncation.

Studying a cohort of affected cases and subsequently examining a control set for variants identified can cause ascertainment bias.  Thus it would be preferable to search for them in affected individuals and controls with equal rigour, and to use a statistical framework to determine whether variants are truly more common in the affected.  These studies are likely to require extremely large and/or enriched data sets in order to identify and verify significant rare variants.  Nevertheless it is becoming increasingly cost and time effective to perform even whole genome sequencing to determine genetic predisposition to both common and rare disease.

Copy number variation and predisposition

A copy number polymorphism (CNP) in MTUS1 was found to be associated with breast cancer predisposition (Frank et al. 2007), but not colorectal cancer (Monahan et al 2008).  Recently, multiple studies have discovered an abundance of germline copy number variation (CNV) of DNA segments ranging from small to large chromosomal segments (e.g. Down syndrome results from trisomy 21), probably encompassing over 12% of the human genome (Redon et al. 2006). These include deletions, insertions, duplications and complex multi-site variants.  The extent and role of these copy number polymorphisms (CNPs) is increasingly understood with the development of new techniques which allow us to identify such variation (Lupski 2007).

Many new CNPs have been identified from studies using whole genome SNP chips (Redon et al. 2006).  However, the extent of linkage disequilibrium between SNPs and CNPs is unclear.  The biological impact of these types of variation, for example on gene expression, is strikingly different.  Expression profiles from SNPs and CNPs had little overlap (Stranger et al. 2007).  Multiplex ligation-probe amplification (MLPA) has revealed complex whole exon duplications and deletions in APC which lead to the classic FAP phenotype (Schouten et al. 2002; McCart et al. 2006; Pagenstecher et al. 2007).  High penetrance conditions such as FAP are rare whatever the type of mutation may be, e.g. point mutations or exon CNV.  In theory, complex disease might be more susceptible to subtle, lower penetrance forms of variation which alter whole gene copy number without disabling gene function.  In addition, the impact of individual CNPs may be even subtler, with disease phenotype being caused by combinations of low penetrance alleles.

Identification of significant CNPs is thus far hampered by the cost of performing such studies and the lack of techniques available.  Genome wide association studies using SNPs are better at identifying deletion copy number variation that duplication (Locke et al. 2006).  The new generation arrays (e.g. the Affymetrix 5.0 and 6.0, and Illumina 1 M) are being designed to offer the potential to simultaneously interrogate SNPs and CNPs in a single experiment.  However, it may be that more comprehensive genome wide CNP maps are first required with the level of detail for CNPs that the Hapmap project provided for SNPs, before such genome wide CNP arrays are truly useful.

Much as SNPs can be either common or rare variants, so can CNPs.  Using a comparative genomic hybridisation (aCGH) platform, a large study concluded that these CNVs are well tagged on existing SNP platforms and probably contribute little to disease predisposition (Craddock et al 2010).  However this study was limited by the selection of CNVs and did not examine the impact of rare CNVs.  While genome-wide association using common CNPs may be a potentially useful method to elucidate predisposition caused by such CNPs, this technique is not useful for such rare variants.  The true role of these variants are as of yet of undetermined importance in human disease.

Functional consequences of risk alleles

When a Mendelian cancer predisposition gene is first identified, much of the evidence of it’s linkage to the phenotype derives from the finding of several different variants in that gene that

  • Have strong functional effects (for example, protein-truncating mutations).
  • Are often accompanied by ‘second hits’ in the cancer themselves.
  • Are essentially absent from the general population and are hence associated with a very high relative risk.

Conversely the finding of a statistical association of low penetrance alleles with disease in association studies does not necessarily prove that the underlying variant has biological consequence such as causing low-penetrance predisposition.  The likely disease-causing locus (with which the polymorphism is in linkage disequilibrium) has rarely been identified.  IGF1 microsatellite and the TSER TYMS polymorphisms may be in linkage disequilibrium with a sequence variant which alters gene expression Monahan et al 2009).  In a number of recent genome-wide and candidate gene association studies performed, the downstream effect of such variation on RNA and protein function is largely unknown.  Nevertheless identification of a germline mutation in linkage disequilibrium with predisposition alleles has remained elusive and it is felt that allele-specific expression may be an important aetiological factor in colorectal cancer predisposition, particularly as many observed significant variants are not close to any known coding regions (Houlston et al. 2008; Valle et al. 2008).  A SNP in SMAD7 whilst strongly associated with colorectal cancer risk was not found to alter expression of the gene despite lying in the 3’UTR region of the gene (Broderick et al. 2007).  This study may have been limited by the effects of tissue-specific expression as it was performed on lymphoblastoid cell lines derived from cases.  In contrast colorectal cancer associated locus 8q24 lies in a gene desert but contains regulatory elements of MYC, and this region preferentially binds TCF4 the primary target of the canonical Wnt signalling pathway (Tuupanen et al 2009; Pomerantz et al 2009).

Whilst association studies may not easily reveal germline mutations, quantitative and qualitative gene expression studies may be a useful direction for future studies.

Understanding proteomics may be used to yield information as to epistasis between genes as protein-protein interactions are amongst the most important determinants of interaction between genes.  However, in variants identified to date there appears to be very little epistasis (Houlston et al. 2008).  There have been some significant advances in the understanding of diseases such as Crohn’s disease (Parkes et al. 2007) and Coeliac disease (van Heel et al. 2007) due to the results of non-hypothesis driven association studies.  A number of low-penetrance loci have been linked to specific biological pathways with likely biological relevance in these conditions.  Five of the 10 SNPs identified by GWAS of colorectal cancer are in close LD with genes of the TGF/BMP signalling pathway including SMAD7, BMP2 and BMP4.  In the next few years research is likely to reveal further advances in our understanding of the role of both common and rare low penetrance alleles in colorectal cancer by analysing the associated effects on expression and protein function, and by the identification of disease causing mutations.

Gene-environment interactions

Recently published data analysis from the CAPP2 study demonstrates significant modification of colorectal cancer risk in Lynch Syndrome patients by aspirin (Burn et al 2011).  Thus even high penetrant syndromes may be modifiable by the environment.  A priori, environmental agents are even more likely to modify lower penetrance genetic risk factors.  An association of smoking-related cancers with polymorphisms at the cancer susceptibility locus 8q24 (identified by genome-wide association) has been suggested (Park et al. 2008).  When the odds ratios for predisposition alleles are well below 1.5 there is a possibility of interaction (or bias) through an unmeasured environmental factor, as in the context of lung cancer risk and association with 15q which contains the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (Chanock and Hunter 2008).  Furthermore, the role of gene-environment interactions remains poorly defined and a reductionist approach to understanding the aetiology of colorectal neoplasia means that few such studies exist.  Naturally common low penetrance susceptibility alleles will individually contribute little to overall risk, and it is likely that environmental ‘modification’ by smoking, exercise, body habitus, diet, etc. will provide a more complete explanation of what drives normal colonic crypts along the pathway to cancer.  Indeed the odds ratios for environmental risk factors are comparable to many low penetrance alleles.

It is likely that combining data from genetic and environmental studies will provide clinicians with an increasingly powerful tool to understand and individual patient’s risk and tailor an appropriate management plan, whether this be colonoscopic screening, genetic testing, or lifestyle modification.  It has been proposed that this data may be used in future in association studies in a two-step process whereby patients are first screened for epidemiological risk factors before entering the genotyping analysis (Murcray et al. 2009).

COloRectal Gene Identification (CORGI) Study

In 1997, the ColoRectal tumour Gene Identification(CoRGI) Study Consortium was formed to ascertain and collect biologicalsamples and data from families segregating colorectal cancer, in order to identify novel predisposition genes.  This study led by Prof Ian Tomlinson has largely been undertaken in this laboratory by colleagues.  Families and individuals are being collected with the following entry criteria;

  • Bowel cancer aged < 75 years old
  • Colorectal adenoma < 45 years old
  • Three or more adenomas at any time
  • Severely dysplastic/villous/large (> 1cm) adenoma
  • Exclude Patients with IBD, pathogenic germline mutations, Peutz-Jeghers & juvenile polyposis.

Families were collected from centres throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.

CORGI 1 – Linkage Analysis: A genome wide linkage analysis has been performed on 69 families with a history of bowel cancer and/or polyps using the GeneChip Mapping 10K Xba 142 arrays containing 10 204SNP markers (Kemp et al. 2006).  Families in this study had at least 2 individuals (except parent/child) affected.  A maximum non-parametriclinkage statistic of 3.40 (P=0.0003) was identified at chromosomal region 3q21–q24.  The Galway family is the largest pedigree with over 29 informative meioses, and a decision was taken for it to be studied separately (Chapters 3 and 4).

CORGI 1b A second similar set of 34 families has been collected.  Linkage analysis was performed by colleagues which confirmed linkage at 3q22 (Papaemmanuil, Carvajal-Carmona et al. 2008).

CORGI 1c Approximately 100 families where siblings are affected are being collected for sib-pair analysis.

 

CORGI 2 – Genome Wide Association (GWA): CORGI 2 is a GWA study using an Illumina SNP platform on cases with the same entry criteria as CORGI 1 but without a family history.  Colleagues initially genotyped 550,163 tag SNPs in 940 individuals with familial colorectal neoplasia and 965 controls using the Illumina Infinium platform. (Tomlinson, Webb et al. 2007).  In CORGI 2b Approximately 42000 candidate SNPs with most significant association in CORGI 2 are being re-tested in a group of ~ 3000 colorectal cancer patients.  Several loci which contain SNPs associated with colorectal cancer susceptibility (at 8q23, 10p14, 11q24, 15q13.3 and 18q21) have been recently identified by colleagues in this cohort (Broderick, Carvajal-Carmona et al. 2007; Tomlinson, Webb et al. 2007; Jaeger, Webb et al. 2008; Tenesa et al. 2008; Tomlinson, Webb et al. 2008).  However no mutations have yet been identified at these loci with proven functional relevance.

CORGI 3 – Candidate gene screening: Genes in the CORGI 2 patient cohort are being screened for sequence abnormalities in functionally important genes such as those involved in DNA repair, the Wnt pathway, or other genes involved in the aetiology of colorectal neoplasia.  Colleagues are also screening the patients included in CORGI 1 and CORGI 2 for gene mutations the loci identified by linkage or association respectively.  Candidate genes EPHB1 and MBD4 have been screened for mutations at 3q21-24 in the CORGI 1 family set but none were found (Kemp, Carvajal-Carmona et al. 2006).

Conclusions

Because of the evidence from adenoma-to-carcinoma sequence model (Morson 1968; Fearon and Vogelstein 1990) the National Polyp Study (Winawer et al. 1993) and other prospective studies (Dove-Edwin et al. 2005; Dove-Edwin et al. 2006) we know that if polyps are removed during colonoscopy, cancer may be prevented.  Thus colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable of all cancers, and some early evidence is emerging that colonoscopic screening may reduce colorectal cancer related mortality (Baxter et al. 2009).  However, national colonoscopic screening programs are expensive, stretching the capacity of already busy services and therefore do not reach the whole population they target.  In addition to lifestyle modification advice to reduce environmental risk factors, it may be possible to identify two groups of patients with inherited risk by understanding the underlying molecular aetiology.

(Copyright, Dr Kevin Monahan)

UK BSG/ACPGBI Guidelines for Moderate Risk Family History/Colorectal Cancer Risk Groups


 

BSG/ACPGBI GUIDANCE ON LARGE BOWEL SURVEILLANCE FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH A FAMILY HISTORY INDICATING A MODERATE RISK (2010)

http://www.bsg.org.uk/clinical-guidelines/endoscopy/guidelines-for-colorectal-cancer-screening-and-surveillance-in-moderate-and-high-risk-groups-update-from-2002.html

Executive summary

Dedicated Clinics: Referrals on the basis of family history are best coordinated through centres with a specialist interest, such as regional genetics services or medical/surgical gastroenterology centres. Such centralisation enables audit of family history ascertainment, assigned level of risk, collection of outcome data and research.

Screening Procedure: Total colonoscopy is the preferred mode of surveillance for the moderate risk categories defined here, owing to the propensity for proximal colonic lesions and the opportunity for snare polypectomy. Incomplete colonoscopy should initiate an alternative imaging modality on the same day, such as double-contrast barium enema or CT colonography. A repeat colonoscopy soon after an incomplete examination is acceptable, but success must be assured. However, radiation exposure should be minimised and regular radiological surveillance is not recommended.

High moderate risk group inclusion criteria comprise familial aggregations where affected relatives are first-degree relatives of each other (first-degree kinship) with at least one being a first-degree relative of the consultand. If both parents are affected, these count as being within first-degree kinship:

– Three affected relatives any age in a first-degree kinship (eg, a parent and a blood-related aunt/uncle and/or grandparent), at least one of whom is a first-degree relative of the consultand, or two siblings/one parent or two siblings/one offspring combinations, or both parents and one sibling. However, there should be no affected relative <50 years old, as otherwise the family would fulfil high risk criteria.

– Two affected relatives aged <60 years in a first-degree kinship or mean age of two affected relatives <60 years. At least one relative must be a first-degree relative of the consultand and so this category includes a parent and grandparent, >2 siblings, >2 children or child+sibling. The risk is sufficiently increased to merit low-intensity surveillance comprising 5-yearly colonoscopy between age 50 and age 75 years. Polyps should be snared; adenoma surveillance applies thereafter if a benign neoplasm is confirmed.

Low-moderate risk group. Inclusion criteria are:

– One affected first-degree relative under 50 years old or

– Two affected first-degree relatives, aged 60 or older.

In both high-moderate and low-moderate categories, pathology tumour material from an affected relative may be available to test for Lynch syndrome gene involvement.

Excluding such instances, there is a modest excess risk meriting a single colonoscopy at age 55 (if older at presentation then instigate forthwith), in the lowmoderate group to identify polyp formers. Polyps should be snared; adenoma surveillance applies thereafter if a benign neoplasm is confirmed. If colonoscopy is clear, reassure and discharge with recommendations relevant to population risk (uptake of faecal occult blood test screening in the UK).

Early-onset colorectal cancer (<50 years). The elevation of risk in relatives of an early-onset case is modest. However, the heightened anxiety and emotive nature of cancer in this age group merit special mention because this frequently initiates requests for surveillance. Such cases are covered by the above risk categorisation, but algorithms can also be used to predict whether the affected relative is a carrier of a mutation in a Lynch syndrome gene. These approaches identify affected individuals where tumour immunohistochemistry and/or microsatellite instability analysis could lead to identification of a DNA mismatch repair gene mutation. Bethesda criteria are not discriminatory within this group because all patients fulfil these criteria due to age alone.

Low Risk Group: People with only one affected relative and who do not fulfil any of the above criteria, and do not fulfil high risk criteria, should be reassured and encouraged to avail themselves of population-based screening measures. The low level residual risk over that of the general population should be explained.

Outcome of screening in Moderate Risk Groups (Dove-Edwin et al BMJ 2005)

Advanced neoplasia and age at initial colonoscopy.

Colonoscopic surveillance is effective in preventing colorectal cancer in individuals from families with hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (group 4) and in individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer that does not meet the Amsterdam criteria. However, colonoscopic surveillance in the families at moderate risk seems not indicated until age 45 (or even 50), and this is true even for the relatives of young patients. Furthermore, surveillance intervals of more than five years may be appropriate in individuals with a moderate risk family history (groups 1-3) in whom no advanced pathology is found.

Colonoscopic polypectomy has been shown to decrease the incidence of colorectal cancer in a large cohort study as well as in clinical practice and to decrease both the incidence and mortality of colorectal cancer in individuals with a family history of hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer. It is also considered by some to be a safe tool for population screening. Clear guidelines exist for colorectal surveillance in hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer families, but guidelines and practices for individuals at moderate risk on the basis of their family history are heterogeneou.

Concerns exist about colonoscopic surveillance in individuals with a moderate risk family history, as some will not be at increased risk. Dunlop et al calculated that if surveillance were offered to individuals aged 30-70 who have two direct relatives affected or one under age 45 then 235 000 individuals would be eligible in the United Kingdom. Even if the age of initiating surveillance is raised, the potential burden on resources is immense. Colonoscopy is associated with a small risk of serious complications, and this may substantially outweigh any benefits in people at low risk.

In this study, only one incident cancer was detected on surveillance in an individual with a moderate risk family history during 9281 person years of follow-up. In families at moderate risk, advanced neoplasia is very rare below the age of 45 and, if not seen initially, it remains uncommon (under age 65) if follow-up colonoscopy is carried out within six years. These findings are important because individuals with a moderate risk family history who are under age 65 with no advanced neoplasia can be considered to be at low risk and extended surveillance intervals may be sufficient. Individuals with a moderate risk family history in whom advanced neoplasia is seen on initial colonoscopy should continue with colonoscopy every three years. The low yield of advanced neoplasia under the age of 45 is true also of those with a first degree relative affected under age 45. Only 4% of 139 individuals in group 1—families with one case of colorectal cancer diagnosed under age 45, and no other cases—screened under age 45 (mean age 33) had an adenoma of any description. Despite the increased risk of colorectal cancer in this group individuals’ absolute risk therefore remains small and the benefit of screening seems minimal below the age of 45.

 

Colorectal Cancer Aetiology


 

Epidemiology

 

Colorectal cancer is diagnosed in approximately 35,000 people in the United Kingdom each year, the third most commonly diagnosed cancer after breast and lung cancer (NICR 2005; ONS 2005, ISD_Online, 2005 #540).  With 16,148 deaths in 2004 it was the second most common-cause of cancer death.  This is also true in other Caucasian populations (Jemal et al. 2007).

Age-standardised death rates from Colon and re...

Age-standardised death rates from Colon and rectum cancers by country (per 100,000 inhabitants). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Colorectal cancer, however,is not equally common throughout the world (Boyle and Langman 2000).  In the ‘westernised’countries colorectal cancerrepresents ~13.4% of all incident cases compared to ~7.8% elsewhere.

The occurrence of colorectal cancer is strongly related to age, with 93% occurring after the age of 50 years (ONS 2005).  Before this age there are equal numbers of males and females diagnosed, although after males predominate, with an eventual overall male to female ratio of 1.2:1.  Using data for England and Wales the overall lifetime risk of colorectal cancer is 1 in 18 for men and 1 in 20 for women (CRUK. 2006).  Sixty two percent of cancers are situated in the colon and the remainder in the rectum (ONS 2005).  Seventy percent are left-sided and the remainder right-sided (Toms 2004).

English: Gross appearance of an opened colecto...

Gross appearance of an opened colectomy specimen containing an invasive colorectal carcinoma and two adenomatous polyps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More than 90% of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas arising from benign precursor adenomas.  A small proportion may arise from other types of polyps including hyperplastic and serrated polyps (Young et al. 2007).  The remainder of colorectal malignant tumours include carcinoids and lymphomas.  The National Polyp Study showed that endoscopic removal of adenomas prevents colorectal cancer (Winawer et al. 1993).  Endoscopic surveillance and polyp removal is a vital tool making colorectal cancer also one of the most preventable cancers as polyps removed at an early stage can prevent the cancer ever occurring.   Of course the endoscopic procedure performed must be technically perfect, performed at the correct stage in cancer development and in appropriate groups, e.g. for age, risk etc.  The resources are not available to perform colonoscopy on whole populations.  Identifying individuals at high risk due to genetic or environmental factors will help us undertake these preventative measures with the highest levels of efficacy and efficiency.

The concordance rates of cancer in monozygous and dizygous twins suggest that about one-third of the variation in cancer risk might typically be ascribed to genetic factors (Lichtenstein et al. 2000).  Highly penetrant (Mendelian) genetic syndromes account for 5–10% (Cannon-Albright et al. 1988) (Houlston et al. 1992) (Johns and Houlston 2001).  These include Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), due to germline mutations in the tumour suppressor gene APC, and Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal cancer (HNPCC), due to germline mutations DNA mismatch repair enzymes MLH1, MSH2, PMS2 and MSH6. HNPCC accounts for 1-4% of colorectal cancer and is characterised by cancers with DNA microsatellite instability (MSI).  There is good evidence that endoscopic surveillance of patients with high-risk genetic predisposition also prevents cancer (Jarvinen et al. 2000; Dove-Edwin et al. 2005; Dove-Edwin et al. 2006).

Proportion of colorectal cancer due to environmental factors is about 65%, with 5-10% caused by cancer syndromes and the remainder due to low penetrance heritability

Environmental factors such as physical activity, obesity, diet and other exogenous factors also contribute to the aetiology of colorectal cancer (Linseisen et al. 2002; Bingham et al. 2003; Ferrari et al. 2007).    Diet and lifestyle has been found to modify risk across the cancer spectrum e.g., smoking and lung cancer (Doll and Hill 1950).  However, there are difficulties studying the effects of ‘five pieces of fruit a day’ in population studies due to analytical challenges with accurate food monitoring, variation in the fruit types and other confounding variables such as smoking, BMI, etc, and results of studies of environmental factors often vary widely.  Large international studies such as the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) are attempting to unravel the evidence of sometimes contradictory epidemiological studies (Gonzalez 2006).  Genetic predisposition alleles with a low penetrance may be more susceptible to environmental influences which modify an individual’s risk of colorectal neoplasia. There have been very few studies that clearly address the mechanisms of mutational induction by the environment in colorectal cancer.  Although the contribution of individual environmental factors is uncertain, they play an important role in the multifactorial aetiology of colorectal cancer.

 

The normal large bowel

 

The large bowel is embryologically derived from midgut and hindgut which in have their junction at the splenic flexure.  The vascular supply and lymphatic drainage of the large bowel is similarly divided, and this junction is sometimes taken to separate the ‘right’ and ‘left’ colorectum.  In adults, the large bowel lumen is continuous with nine anatomical regions: The caecum, ascending colon, hepatic flexure, transverse colon, splenic flexure, descending colon, sigmoid colon and the rectum.  The mucosa lies over a basement membrane, underneath is the muscularis mucosa, lamina propria and muscularis propria (Figure 1‑1).

 

 

 

The Wnt signalling pathway and colonic crypt homeostasis

 

The Wnt, and to a lesser extent the TGF-ß, BMP, Notch, and Par polarity pathways are the major players in homeostatic control of the adult epithelium (Sancho et al. 2004).  The surface of the colon is covered by an epithelium composed of four differentiated cell types (enterocytes, enteroendocrine,goblet and Paneth cells) that invaginates at regular intervalsto form crypts.  The bottom of the crypts is occupied by a few stem cells that give rise to actively dividing precursorcells that populate the bottom two-thirds of the crypts. The epithelial cell precursors migrate upward in an ordered fashion, which isalso controlled by Wnt factors, and they stop proliferating when they reach the top third of the crypt, possibly because they are too far from the Wnt source. Meanwhile, they continue their migration and colonise the surface of the colon.After about a week, epithelial cells undergo apoptosis and areshed in the lumen of the gut.  The Paneth cells constitute anexception, as they migrate downward and occupy the very bottomof the crypt (van Es et al. 2005).

Thus, the epithelium of the colon is under perpetual renewal.  Wnt growth factors activate a cascade of intracellular events, which is known as the canonical Wnt pathway that ultimately leads to the expression of a genetic program controlling the co-ordinated expansion, fate and sorting of the epithelial cell population (Figure 1‑2).

The Wnt signalling pathway (McDonald SAC et al. (2006) Mechanisms of Disease: from stem cells to colorectal cancer)

The canonical Wnt signalling cascade controls cell behaviour by activating the transcriptional properties of DNA-binding proteins of the T-cell factor(TCF)/lymphoid enhancer factor-1 family (Clevers 2006). Wnt induces stabilisation of cytosolic ß-catenin, which is transported to the nucleus and associates with TCFs, leading to the expression of specific target genes (McDonald et al. 2006). In the absence of Wnt signalling, ß-catenin is targeted for degradation in proteosomes, and TCFs block expression of Wnt target genes.  Thus activation of the pathway may be demonstrated by nuclear localisation of ß-catenin.  In colorectal cancer mutations in components of the Wnt pathway mimic the effect of a permanent Wnt stimulation, causing epithelial cells to proliferate inappropriately.

Wnt factors can also trigger the activation of at least twoother, ß-catenin-independent, non-canonical pathways. They are referredto as non-canonical signalling and their implication in colorectal cancer, if any, is not yet elucidated.  The list of genes targeted by the Wnt pathway is very long (http://www.stanford.edu/%7ernusse/pathways/targets.html), indicating its wide range of roles in cellular homeostasis.

The transforming growth factor-ß pathway

The transforming growth factor-ß (TGF-ß) superfamily comprises a large number of structurally related polypeptide growth factors and each of these is capable of regulating a complex array of cellular processes (Hata et al. 1998).  In normal epithelial cells including intestinal epithelium, TGF-ß has a major inhibitory role and a substantial body of evidence suggests a role as tumour suppressor.  Neoplastic transformation results in loss of normal growth inhibitory responses to TGF-ß (Kurokowa et al. 1987).  Inhibition of intestinal cell proliferation by TGF-ß treatment results in cell cycle arrest from mid-to-late G1 (Ko et al. 1998).   To date, some of the most important contributors to the growth response seen on TGF-ß exposure appear to involve cell cycle regulatory genes, including C-MYC, CDC25A, and the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors (CDKIs) p15INK4B, p21WAF1/CIP1, and p27KIP1 (Ko et al. 1994; Ko et al. 1995).  Other targets of this pathway include the SMAD (Small mothers against decapentaplegic) and BMP genes (bone morphogenetic proteins), important mediators of signal transduction.  In vivo, there is increased expression of both TGF-ß1 and the TGF-ß type II receptor in intestinal epithelial cells as they migrate from the proliferative compartment toward the lumen in both the small intestine and the colon (Winesett et al. 1996).  This pattern of expression is inversely correlated with the mitotic activity in the gut epithelium.  Reduced expression of the TGF-ß type I receptor was been strongly linked to colorectal cancer predisposition (Valle et al. 2008).  However a larger study published subsequently did not demonstrate allele-specific expression or an association polymorphisms within this gene with colorectal neoplasia (Carvajal-Carmona et al 2010).

Colorectal Cancer Development

Pathway from normal colorectal epithelium to cancer

 

Colorectal cancer develops via an adenoma to carcinoma sequence with the accumulation of a number of genetic and epigenetic mutations (Figure 1‑3) (Morson 1968; Fearon and Vogelstein 1990).  The mutations accumulated vary in hereditary cancer depending on the initiating mutation.  In their normal state, tumour suppressor genes inhibit cell proliferation.  Growth inhibition is lost when both alleles are inactivated by mutation and/or epigenetic changes, such as promoter methylation which stifles expression of the gene.  Tumour suppressor genes broadly conform to Knudson’s classic two-hit hypothesis, where inactivation of both alleles is required for tumour suppressor genes to lose their normal function (Knudson 1971).  In contrast, proto-oncogenes act by promoting cell proliferation.  Mutation of these genes leads to abnormal oncogenic over-expression or increased activity of the protein.

The adenoma-to-carcinoma sequence for colorectal cancer is probably most commonly initiated by bi-allelic mutation of the APC tumour suppressor gene.  APC mutations have been found in microadenomas (Otori et al. 1998), the earliest lesion on the pathway (also called aberrant crypt foci (Roncucci et al. 1991)), and in ~60-80% of early sporadic adenomas and carcinomas (Cottrell et al. 1992; Miyoshi et al. 1992; Nakamura et al. 1992).  APC is a key member of the canonical Wnt signalling pathway, and the key mechanism by which mutation of this gene contributes to carcinogenesis is by activation of this pathway.  However, further accumulated mutations in additional genes are required for progression of the early lesions to cancer.

The adenoma-to-carcinoma sequence: A: Aberrant crypt foci are seen using chromoendoscopy with x200 magnification (centre and 2 o’clock) surrounded by normal crypts. An early initiating mutation occurs here, usually a tumour suppressor gene such as APC. B: Adenomatous Polyp: Mutations in proto-oncogenes such as KRAS and BRAF lead to adenomatous polyp formation. C: Other genetic and epigenetic alterations such as promoter hypo-/hyper-methylation cause progression. There are hyperchromatic nuclei with prominent nucleoli indicate highly dysplastic crypts on the left side of this image. D; Adenocarcinoma, with invasion through the muscularis layer, and mucin producing glands with abnormal polarity. This is often associated with genomic copy number variation of regions such as 18q and 17p (P53).

Activating mutations of the oncogenes KRAS (Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homolog) and BRAF (v-raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homolog B1), both members of the MAPK (mitogen activated protein kinase) signalling pathway, are found in the transition from early to an intermediate lesion in approximately 50% and 10% of cases respectively (Bos et al. 1987; Rajagopalan et al. 2002; Yuen et al. 2002).  Mutations of codons 12 and 13 in exon 2 of KRAS tend to occur in 30-60% of colorectal carcinomas (Kressner et al. 1998). The KRAS gene product,a 21 kDa protein located at the inner plasma membrane, is involved in the transduction of mitogenic signals.  The Ras protein is activated transiently as a response to extracellular signals such as growth factors, cytokines and hormones that stimulate cell surface receptors (Campbell et al. 1998), and mutations in KRAS constitutively activate the Ras protein.

BRAF V600E substitution mutation

The substitution mutation of BRAF V600E is present in 4-12% of unselected colorectal tumours, and it is associated with sporadic MSI tumours but not HNPCC tumours (Vandrovcova et al. 2006).  MSI tumours outside the context of HNPCC are usually caused by methylation of the MLH1 promoter.  Indeed, there is a hypothesis that some tumours might develop through a separate hyperplastic polyp-serrated adenoma pathway (Spring et al. 2006).

Epigenetic changes such as promoter hypo-/hyper-methylation can cause disregulation of expression of many genes important in colorectal cancer (Hitchins et al. 2005; Hitchins et al. 2006).  Further progression to late type adenoma is associated with loss of 18q in 50% of large adenomas and 75% of carcinomas (Vogelstein et al. 1988; Fearon et al. 1990).  This causes loss of SMAD2 and SMAD4, members of the TGF-ß signalling pathway.  Point mutations of these genes have also been identified in colorectal cancer (Eppert et al. 1996; Hahn et al. 1996; Thiagalingam et al. 1996).  The adenoma to carcinoma transition appears to be associated with loss of 17p (Fearon et al. 1987; Rodrigues et al. 1990; Akiyama et al. 1998).  The 17p locus contains the P53 gene (Baker et al. 1990), the so-called gatekeeper of the cell which has important roles in the regulation of the cell cycle and apoptosis.  Loss of heterozygosity of 17p correlates with missense and truncating mutations in P53 (Baker et al. 1989; Baker, Preisinger et al. 1990).  Tumour invasion and metastasis are associated with loss of 8p (Hughes et al. 2006), and loss of E-cadherin function, a component of adherens-junctions (Hao et al. 1997; Christofori and Semb 1999).

The progression from adenoma to invasive carcinoma probably takes 10-40 years (Ilyas et al. 1999).  However, not all lesions will undergo malignant transformation, the reason for which is unclear.  It may be that the necessary mutations do not accumulate because of death, or because of environmental influences such as diet.

Genetic instability and colorectal cancer

 

Colorectal cancer may be subdivided genetically by the types of mutations which accumulate genome-wide during carcinogenesis.  It had been observed nearly a century ago that most cancers were aneuploid, and it has been noted that the degree of aneuploidy in colorectal cancer correlates with the severity of the neoplastic behaviour (Heim and Mitelman 1989).  A series of deletions, duplications, and rearrangements occur.  Allelic losses appear to be important in the progression from premalignant to malignant neoplasia in the colorectum.  This process is called chromosomal instability (CIN) and accounts for approximately 75% of colorectal cancers.  Ten to 15% are not CIN but do have smaller mutational events which are caused by loss of DNA mismatch repair (Fishel et al. 1993) and are referred to as MSI tumours.  The CpG island mutator phenotype (CIMP) is associated with methylation of promoter regions, CpG rich regions, which causes silencing of genes.  Tumours are often both MIN and CIMP, as methylation of mismatch repair gene promoters usually occurs in sporadic MSI tumours (Kane et al. 1997).

The role of genomic instability in causing and promoting tumour growth remains controversial (Lengauer et al. 1998; Tomlinson and Bodmer 1999).  Some argue that instabilityis necessary for tumourigenesis (Loeb 1991), while others take the viewthat Darwinian selection is the driving force. It is becoming clear that many cancers harbour multiple mutations, the great majority ofwhich probably have no significant effect on tumour growth.  It may well be that some tumours with an inherited DNA repair defect accumulate more mutations than others.

 

Hereditary Colorectal Cancer Syndromes


Hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes

Germline mutations which predispose to multiple polyps

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

Multiple polyp patients are a clinically heterogeneous group.  Classical familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP; OMIM 175100) is caused by mutation of the APC gene which activates the Wnt pathway (Bodmer et al. 1987; Groden et al. 1991; Clevers 2006).  This gene is somatically mutated in approximately 70% of sporadic colorectal cancer.

Polyposis (carpeting a rectum after a previous ileocolonic anastamosis)

FAP is characterised by over a hundred colonic adenomas, and a high penetrance of colorectal cancer with an average age of cancer presentation of 39 years.  There are also extra-colonic manifestations including intra-abdominal desmoids, duodenal adenomas and congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium (CHRPE).  In attenuated FAP (AFAP) there is a later age of onset of colorectal cancer with a lower penetrance.  The polyps number 10-100 in affected individuals.  This arbitrary distinction is based on clinical characteristics, merely representing different ends of the same phenotypic spectrum of FAP.  Germline mutations in APC account for up to 15% of patients with 5–100 adenomas and can be partitioned out as AFAP.

English: CHRPE - congenital hypertrophy of the...

English: CHRPE – congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Somatic mutations in the APC gene

From the perspective of APC mutations, the most important functional domains of the APC gene appear to be the first serine alanine methionine proline (SAMP) (axin binding) repeat at codon 1580(Smits et al. 1999) and the first, second and third 20-amino acid repeats (20AARs) involved in ß-catenin binding and degradation. The great majority of pathogenic APC mutations truncate the protein before the first SAMP repeat and leave a stable, truncated protein that encodes 0-3 20AARs.

The ‘just-right’ model. The figure shows the multiple domains of the APC protein and the correlation between the position of the germline mutation and that of the somatic mutation. (a) Germline mutations between the first and the second 20AAR are associated with LOH. (b) Germline mutations before the first 20AAR are associated with somatic mutations between the second and third 20AAR. (c) Germline mutations after the second 20AAR are associated with somatic mutations before the first 20AAR(Segditsas and Tomlinson 2006).

APC is a classic tumour suppressor gene, requiring two hits for inactivation (Knudson 1971).  In colorectal tumours from FAP patients, the germline wild-type allele either undergoes loss of heterozygosity (LOH) or acquires a protein-truncating mutation.  Most somatic mutations occur in a restricted region of the gene, the mutation cluster region (MCR) (Miyoshi, Nagase et al. 1992). The reason for the MCR and relatively low frequency of LOH at APC was discovered from studies of FAP (Lamlum et al. 1999).  It was found that LOH is strongly associated with germline mutations between the first and second 20AAR (codons 1285-1379). Germline mutations before codon 1280 are associated with somatic mutations between the second and third 20AAR (codons 1400 and 1495); and germline mutations after codon 1400 are associated with somatic mutations before codon 1280 (Lamlum, Ilyas et al. 1999; Albuquerque et al. 2002; Crabtree et al. 2003), Most tumours end up with APC alleles that encode a total of two 20AARs(Figure 1‑4).  Similar associations exist for sporadic colorectal cancers. This association has been proposed to cause an optimal level of Wnt signalling/ß-catenin activation (Lamlum, Ilyas et al. 1999; Albuquerque, Breukel et al. 2002).  Whatever the case, it is clear that selective constraints act on colorectal tumours such that some combinations of APC mutations provide a superior growth advantage for the tumour cell.  This is known as the ‘just right’ hypothesis.

Germline APC mutation and phenotype

There is evidence of a genotype-phenotype relationship with regard to APC mutations.  AFAP is associated with germline mutations in three regions of APC: 5’ (codon 1580); and the alternatively spliced region of exon 9 (Knudsen et al. 2003).  Mutations close to codon 1300 are the most commonly found and are associated with a severe phenotype, typically producing over 2000 polyps and earlier-onset colorectal cancer (Nugent et al. 1994; Debinski et al. 1996).  De novo mutations of APC occur in approximately 20% of FAP.  In a small study de novo mutations of APC were found to be more commonly of paternal origin (Aretz 2004).

Somatic mutations in the Wnt signalling pathway in genes other than APC

Figure 1. Wnt doesn't bind to the receptor. Ax...

Figure 1. Wnt doesn’t bind to the receptor. Axin, GSK and APC form a “destruction complex,” and β-Cat is destroyed. Compare to Figure 2. See the article main text for details. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Wnt signalling pathway is activated in approximately 75% of colorectal cancer, and is one of the key signalling pathways in cancer, regulating cell growth, motility and differentiation.  APC binds to the ß-catenin protein which functions in cell adhesion andas a downstream transcriptional activator in the Wnt signallingpathway (Wong and Pignatelli 2002).  Somatic mutations in ß-CATENIN usually delete the whole of exon 3 or target individual serine or threonine residues encoded by this exon (Ilyas et al. 1997; Morin et al.).  These residues are phosphorylated by the degradation complex that contains APC, and hence their mutation causes ß-catenin to escape from proteosomal degradation.  These mutations are particularlyassociated with HNPCC tumours (but not sporadic MSI tumours) (Johnson et al. 2005).  However, less than 5% of all sporadic colorectal cancer has mutation in ß-CATENIN.  In addition somatic mutations have been reported in AXIN1 (Webster et al. 2000) and AXIN2 (Suraweera et al. 2006), the importance of which is uncertain.

MYH-associated polyposis (MAP)

Damaged DNA is repaired by several mechanisms, one of which involves a family of enzymes involved in base-excision repair (BER). The MYH gene encodes a DNA glycosylaseinvolved in the repair of the oxidative lesion 8-oxoguanine, a by-product of cellular metabolism and oxidative damage of DNA.

(8-oxoG, left), in syn conformation, forming a...

(8-oxoG, left), in syn conformation, forming a with (dATP, right). Created using ACD/ChemSketch 10.0 and . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The products of three BER repair genes, OGG1, MTH1 and MYH work together to prevent 8-oxo-G induced mutagenesis.  Mutations in MYH cause an autosomal recessive colorectal cancer and polyposis syndrome MYH-associated polyposis (MAP; OMIM 608456) (Al-Tassan et al. 2002).  Somatic mutations in the APC gene in polyps from individuals affected with MAP are almost invariably G to T transversions (Sieber et al. 2003), and it was by understanding the underlying DNA repair mechanism of this mutation, base-excision repair, that MYHwas identified as a candidate-predisposition

English: Schematic of base excision repair

English: Schematic of base excision repair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

gene. G to T transversion mutations were also identified in KRAS in codon 12 (Lipton et al. 2003).  The adenoma to carcinoma pathway in MAP does not involve BRAF V600E, SMAD4 or TGFBIIR mutations, or microsatellite instability, and the cancers are near-diploid (Lipton, Halford et al. 2003).  Thus, tumours with germline MYH mutations tend to follow a distinct pathway.

The term MYH-associated polyposis (MAP) may be misleading as up to 20% of biallelic MYH mutation carriers are diagnosed with colorectal cancer without polyposis (Wang et al. 2004).  Biallelic mutations in MYH have been found to account for approximately 10% of polyposis patients, but <1% of all colorectal cancer (Halford et al. 2003; Wang, Baudhuin et al. 2004).  The largest population study to date indicates that approximately 0.2% of all colorectal cancer is caused by biallelic mutations in MYH (Webb et al. 2006).  It was demonstrated in the same study that monoallelic MYH mutations are not associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.  The MAP phenotype typically falls in to the AFAP group, with extra-colonic manifestations consisting of duodenal polyps but not intra-abdominal desmoids.  Among Caucasians approximately 80% of mutations in MYH causing MAP are Y165C or G382D (Sieber, Lipton et al. 2003).  The E466X mutation is a common founder mutation among Pakistani populations, and the most common mutation in the St Mark’s Hospital MAP population (unpublished data).  Y90X is a founder mutation in Indian populations (Sieber, Lipton et al. 2003).

Hereditary mixed polyposis syndrome (HMPS)

Hereditary mixed polyposis syndrome (HMPS OMIM 601228) is a mixed colorectal tumour syndrome which has been linked to the CRAC1 locus on 15q13-14 (Thomas et al. 1996; Jaeger et al. 2003).  It is a rare condition found in a few families of Ashkenazi descent, with an autosomal dominant inheritance, mixed juvenile, adenomatous and hyperplastic polyps, as well as colorectal cancer (Whitelaw et al. 1997).  The best screening protocol for polyps in HMPS is not clear as the condtion is rare.  In addition genome-wide association revealed common low-penetrance predisposition alleles at the CRAC1 locus which are linked to sporadic colorectal cancer risk (Jaeger et al. 2008).  The gene which causes HMPS was recently identified as a 40kb duplication upstream of the gene GREM1 at the CRAC1 locus (Jaeger et al 2012) which causes disruption of the BMP pathway, a pathway also disrupted in Juvenile Polyposis Syndrome.

The hyperplastic polyp and serrated adenoma pathway

The first series of mixed hyperplastic-adenomatous polyps were described in 1990 (Longacre and Fenoglio-Preiser 1990), and have been an increasingly recognised phenomenon.   Most hyperplastic polyps have no malignant potential, although some recent studies have indicated that some have malignant potential, especially those with serrated architecture (sessile serrated adenomas – SSAs), large hyperplastic polyps, mixed polyps and polyps on the right side of the colon (Torlakovic et al. 2003).

Intermediate magnification micrograph of a SSA.

Intermediate magnification micrograph of a SSA. There are sawtooth serrations at the bases of the crypts which helps differentiate this from hyperplastic polyps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some evidence suggests that some but not all of these tumours develop along a ‘serrated pathway’ separate from the classical adenoma-carcinoma sequence (Sawyer et al. 2002; Spring, Zhao et al. 2006). This serrated pathway involves one group who accumulate BRAF V600E mutations and another separate pathway which involves KRAS mutations(Carvajal-Carmona et al. 2007).  In addition the tumours often have methylation of the MLH1 promoter with subsequent microsatellite instability and CIMP phenotype(Jass 2005).

An inherited hyperplastic polyposis syndrome (HPS) has also been increasingly recognised (Cohen et al. 1981; Sumner et al. 1981). In HPS, multiple serrated polyps develop in the colorectum, and approximately 50% of cases present with at least one CRC (Ferrandez et al. 2004; Young and Jass 2006).  In the WHO criteria, Burt and Jass defined HPS as at least five HPs proximal to the sigmoid colon, two of which are > 1 cm diameter, or more than 30 HPs at any site in the large bowel (Burt 2000). Rashid et al, however, used a different classification system, in which HPS was defined as any person with more than 20 HPs, and separate classes were used for patients with large (>1 cm diameter) or multiple (5-10) HPs (Rashid et al. 2000).  These differing classification systems reflect a syndrome which may be both genetically and phenotypically heterogeneous, but one which is becoming increasingly recognised.

This is a mixed histology polyp from an affected individual in a large hyperplastic polyposis family. It contains both villous, serrated portions, the latter contains a zone of high grade dysplasia with BRAF mutations, the villous section was BRAF wild type.

HPS (sometimes known as the ‘serrated pathway syndrome’ (SPS)) may, in fact, be a heterogeneous group of conditions leading to sporadic and inherited cases of colorectal neoplasia.  There are two alternative clinical criteria for the diagnosis of HPS families (Burt 2000; Rashid, Houlihan et al. 2000).  This syndrome is usually associated with somatic mutations in either BRAF or KRAS, but not both together (Carvajal-Carmona, Howarth et al. 2007), providing further evidence of molecular as well as phenotypic heterogeneity.  BRAF mutations are associated with low-grade microsatellite instability due to methylation in CpG islands (CIMP)(Young, Jenkins et al. 2007).  This may result in loss of expression of DNA repair genes MLH1 and MGMT (O(6)-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase) in dysplastic mixed polyps from HPS patients, possibly as a result of promoter methylation (Oh et al. 2005).

Linkage analysis in a large family affected with hyperplastic polyposis syndrome deomstrated a maximum LOD score of 2.71 on the short arm of chromosome 8 (8p.21; Monahan et al 2007).

The Galway Family: A large Irish family affected with Hyperplastic Polyposis Syndrome

Other causes of multiple colorectal polyp predisposition

Germline mutations in exon 7 of the AXIN2 gene have recently been very rarely associated with a predisposition to colorectal polyposis and tooth agenesis ((Lammi et al. 2004) OMIM 608615).   Somatic mutations have been found in AXIN2 previously, but germline mutations have not been found in other studies (Lejeune et al. 2006).

Other mutated genes which cause polyps such as SMAD4, PTEN and BMPR1A lead to multiple polyp syndromes with clinically recognisable differences from the above conditions, such as Juvenile Polyposis (OMIM 174900) and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (OMIM 175200).  The BMPR1A gene product, mutated in Juvenile Polyposis, is a receptor for bone-morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) which are members of TGF-β superfamily and part of the BMP pathway which regulates colonocyte growth and proliferation (Howe et al. 2001).  Germline mutations in PTEN can cause a number of polyposis and multi-systemic syndromes including Cowden syndrome (CS) and Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome (BRRS), and the umbrella term ‘PTEN-mutation spectrum’.  We recommend the Cleveland Calculator which can help determine the likelihood of a germline mutation in PTEN for any of these conditions and thus the need for genetic testing;

Cleveland Calculator: http://www.lerner.ccf.org/gmi/ccscore/index.php

Unknown genetic predispositions account for over 50% of all patients who develop 10-100 colorectal adenomas during their lifetime, and for about 20% of those with more than 100 polyps(Lamlum et al. 2000) (Spirio et al. 1993).  To develop as many as 10-100 colorectal adenomas is a priori indicative of an inherited predisposition and many of these patients have a family history of multiple polyps. It is overwhelmingly likely, therefore, that the remaining multiple polyp patients have an inherited disease of an unknown genetic origin. Molecular characterisation of tumours from these patients remains deficient.

Predisposition to colorectal cancer in patients without multiple polyps

Lynch Syndrome/Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) and related syndromes

Lynch Syndrome (also known as Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer(HNPCC; OMIM 120435)) accounts for approximately 2.2-4% of all colorectal cancer (Hampel et al. 2005).  Lynch Syndrome is a familial cancer syndrome which accounts for approximately 2-3% of all colorectal cancer in the UK.  It has formerly been known as Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer Syndrome (HNPCC), however the phenotype is more complex with multiple extracolonic tumours, for example, so this term has now been largely abandoned.

An Irish family tree with Lynch Syndrome caused by an inherited mutation in MSH2.  Members of this family are affected predominantly with colorectal cancer (CRC), but also small bowel cancer (SBCa), Gastric, Pancreatic, Uterine and other cancers, as well as conditions not linked to Lynch Syndrome such as Crohn’s disease.

LS is an autosomally dominant inherited condition commonly caused by germline mutation in one of four DNA mismatch repair genes, MLH1, MSH2, MSH6 and PMS2.  A minority of these families may be identified because they have multiple affected members diagnosed at an early age.   The Amsterdam Criteria I and II (Vasen et al. 1993; Vasen et al. 1999)(see below) identify patients for colonoscopic and other screening.  Approximately 40-80% of patients meet these criteria, with 50% of the remainder meeting the modified criteria which include extracolonic cancers.  The revised Bethesda criteria (Umar et al. 2004) are used to identify patients for molecular screening of HNPCC, i.e. microsatellite instability ± immunohistochemistry studies.  Approximately 80% of patients are identified using the Bethesda criteria, although the specificity is low.

Immunohistochemistry and microsatellite instability analysis for Lynch Syndrome

Amsterdam I Criteria

  • ≥3 1st degree relatives with colorectal cancer (CRC)
  • ≥2 generations affected
  • One family member below age 50 years of age
  • Exclude familial adenomatous polyposis

Amsterdam II Criteria

  • As for Amsterdam I except that CRC may be substituted by cancer of endometrium, small bowel, or pelviureter.

Most families with LS, however, do not fulfil the Amsterdam criteria. The Revised Bethesda criteria are another set of diagnostic criteria designed to increase the diagnostic yield of testing for LS [7]. For example, all individuals diagnosed under the age of 50 years should be tested for the molecular features of LS in their tumours.  If molecular testing is diagnostic of LS, it can subsequently determine which families should undergo colonoscopic and other investigations, and to screen other high risk family members. The Revised Bethesda guidelines are designed to streamline the clinical diagnostic pathways used to identify mutation carriers in patients with colorectal cancer who might or might not fulfil the Amsterdam criteria, thus increasing diagnostic yield screening for LS.

The identification of such families with Lynch syndrome involves an extensive diagnostic work up comprising of various screening tools combined with genetic and immunohistochemical tests.  Initially the tumour from an affected individual may be tested for features suggestive of this condition by either immunohistochemistry of the mismatch repair proteins and/or DNA microsatellite instability (a hallmark of faulty DNA mismatch repair).  If either of these tests are abnormal, then germline testing may be performed to identify a putative heritable mutation in one of the causative genes.

Patient selection using Amsterdam and revised Bethesda criteria have been applied to clinical pathways in the United Kingdom through the use of national guidelines.  Given the implication of family history and known mortality benefit, the early recognition of Lynch syndrome is highly desirable. There have been concerns over the sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value of already existing guidelines. About 22% of affected individuals do not fulfil either Amsterdam or the Revised Bethesda criteria. As Barnetson et al argues, there might be multiple reasons for this such as small family size, unknown or inadequately taken family history, adoption, and patients without available tumour data [9]. A number of alternative screening models have been developed, such as MMRpredict, PREMM 1,2,6, MMRPro, and MsPath whilst searching for a careening tool that is simple, accurate, and clinically useful for predicting the likelihood of Lynch Syndrome.

Bethesda (revised) Criteria (Umar et al 2003)

  • 1 CRC below age 50 yr
  • Multiple CRC or HNPCC-related cancers
  • CRC with MSI-related histology under 60 years of age
  • CRC or HNPCC-related cancer in ≥1 1st degree relative, < 50 years of age
  • CRC or HNPCC-related cancer in at least two 1st or 2nd degree relatives, any age

MSI-type Histology: Using the revised Bethesda Criteria patients aged 50-60 years should have tumour testing

There is a slight preponderance of right-sided tumours (70% proximal to the splenic flexure) in Lynch Syndrome.  It is a highly penetrant condition which also features extracolonic cancers such as endometrial and gastric cancer.  The adenoma to carcinoma sequence is rapid with interval cancers occurring in 5% of patients despite two-yearly colonoscopic surveillance (Jarvinen, Aarnio et al. 2000).  The tumours are characteristically associated with a local lymphocytic infiltrate and a good prognosis when surgically resected (Jass 2000; Takemoto et al. 2004).

Screening tumours for Lynch Syndrome – is it cost effective?

There are clinical and economic trade-offs when implementing screening protocol on a large scale. As nondirected germline mutation testing for Lynch syndrome is prohibitively expensive at £1000 per gene, MSI and IHC are the screening tests of choice. In view of high costs of testing of all colorectal cancers for MSI or loss or MMR protein, an approach described by Heather Hampel of The Ohio State University, the Revised Bethesda Guidelines were felt to be an appropriate tool to select patients for genetic testing. However, the question remains open: is the “reflex” molecular tumour testing justified clinically and economically? Kastrinos et al, have looked into the popularity of the universal testing across several centres in US. Unsurprisingly, a pessimistic picture emerged showing the low uptake of the concept. The benefits of the universal testing are counterbalanced by practical problems such as an informed consent controversy, practicalities of dealing with the complexity of test results and the resultant implications. The fact that the cost effectiveness of this approach has not been yet validated plays heavily against such approach.

In US, Ramsey et al have carried out a study looking at cost-effectiveness of different strategies for identifying of persons with Lynch syndrome. The average cost per carrier detected using Bethesda guidelines was $15,787, and expanding this strategy to include costs and benefits for first degree relatives greatly improves the cost effectiveness of the program. Expanding the program to first degree relatives leads to savings from intensive screening to exceed the cost of testing.

In Europe, Pinol et al, has carried out a similar study evaluating cost-minimization analysis of identification strategies for MSH2/MLH1-associated Lynch syndrome. Authors concluded that clinical selection of patients using the Revised Bethesda Guidelines followed by either MSI analysis (€11,989 per detected mutation) or IHC (€10,644 per detected mutation) has proved to be more cost effective than performing any of these tests directly (€32,140 and €37,956 per detected mutation, respectively).

Further research has been carried out by Dinh et al in 2010 looking at the cost effectiveness of MMR gene mutations screening, and reached the conclusion that it is comparable to that of already established cancer screening protocols such as colorectal, cervical, and breast cancer screening. Authors argue that primary screening of individuals for MMR gene mutations, starting with the risk assessment between the ages of 25 and 35, followed by genetic testing of those whose risk exceeds 5%, is a strategy that could improve health outcomes in a cost effective manner relative to current practise with the average cost-effectiveness ratio of $26,000 per QALY.

These results echo several European studies, such as that carried out by Pinol V et al, 2005 in Spain, where authors suggest that MSI and IHC testing are equivalent strategies in terms of cost effectiveness when it comes to screening selected patients for MMR mutations

Other non-polyposis predisposition to colorectal neoplasia

About 15% of sporadic colorectal cancers are also microsatellite unstable and feature loss of protein staining on immunohistochemistry but are not caused by germline mutations in mismatch repair genes.  Often they are acquired sporadic type cancers caused by methylation of MLH1.  These associated with a particular genetic pathway which differs from HNPCC by the presence of BRAF V600E mutations, the absence of β-CATENIN exon 3 mutations and a methylator genotype (Young et al. 2005) (Oliveira et al. 2005).  Recently kindreds demonstrating some inheritance of MLH1 promoter methylation have been identified (Suter et al. 2004; Hitchins, Williams et al. 2005), although the evidence for this inherited epimutation is limited to a few case studies and may be related in imprinting (Chong et al. 2007; Hitchins and Ward 2007).

In addition there are a number of families which fulfil Amsterdam criteria but do not demonstrate microsatellite instability (Dove-Edwin, de Jong et al. 2006).  These families are termed by one group familial colorectal cancer type X (Lindor et al. 2005), and have a lower incidence of colorectal cancer occurring at a later age.  The genetic aetiology is not known for these families.

Approximately 93% of colorectal cancer occurs after the age of 50 years, and thus those young patients who develop cancer are likely to have an inherited or other risk factor such as chronic colitis.  The genetic risk is partially made up by inherited mutations which cause HNPCC.  However, there are likely to be a number of other lower penetrance genes which cause cancer predisposition, many of which may have a recessive form of inheritance and few polyps, and therefore a less clearly identifiable phenotype.

Oxford Mail 8th March 2012


Oxford Mail 8th March 2012

Your Local Guardian 8th March 2012


Your Local Guardian 8th March 2012

A cake sale to raise funds for, and awareness of, Beating Bowel Cancer Awareness Week attracted a special sweet-toothed shopper on Friday, March 2.

Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith popped along to the cake stand at West Middlesex Hospital as Cancer services user group Cube sold teatime treats.

Cube was also on hand to make people aware of the fact bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK for men, second for women, and can be treated if detected early. Visitors also got to walk around inside a giant inflatable bowel.

More than £400 was raised for the NHS Campaign Be clear on cancer.

Dr Kevin Monahan, from the hospital, said: “More than 90 per cent of bowel cancer patients diagnosed with the earliest stage of the disease survive five years from diagnosis compared with only 6.6 per cent of those diagnosed with advanced disease.” Mr Goldsmith said: “One person dies every 30 minutes from bowel cancer, and this number could be greatly reduced if the disease is spotted early. It is imperative that people know the signs.”

For more information visit nhs.uk/bowelcancer.

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