Natural history of colorectal cancer

Am J Med. 1999 Jan 25;106(1A):3S-6S; discussion 50S-51S. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9343(98)00338-6.


Colorectal cancer arises from a precursor lesion, the adenomatous polyp, which forms in a field of epithelial cell hyperproliferation and crypt dysplasia. Progression from this precursor lesion to colorectal cancer is a multistep process, accompanied by alterations in several suppressor genes that result in abnormalities of cell regulation, and has a natural history of 10-15 years. Environmental factors and inherited susceptibility play major roles in this sequence of events. As a result of familial and genetic studies, we now have a better understanding of various high-risk groups and the application of screening methods to these individuals and to people at average risk. In the future, further identification of genetically predisposed individuals and colonoscopic screening of the general population may provide new opportunities for control of colorectal cancer through secondary prevention, and a better understanding of lifestyle factors and their modification will lead to improved strategies for primary prevention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colonic Polyps / complications
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms, Hereditary Nonpolyposis / complications
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Risk Factors