Pathogenesis of colorectal cancer

Dig Liver Dis. 2000 Dec;32(9):807-21. doi: 10.1016/s1590-8658(00)80361-8.


The development of colorectal cancer has been viewed as an ordered process in which three main phases can be identified: initiation, promotion and progression. There is definite proof that stable alterations of the structure or sequence of DNA (mutations) represent the initiating event; these are followed by an uncontrolled expansion of the neoplastic clones which characterizes tumoural growth. Several classes of genes have been identified foncogenes, tumour suppressor genes and "mutator" genes) the alterations of which are important in the initiation as well as in the promotion and progression of tumours. Colorectal cancer, therefore, results from a series of genetic changes which lead to the progressive and irreversible loss of normal control of cell growth and differentiation. Available evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that there are several molecular pathways underlying the passage from normal mucosa to colorectal carcinoma, thus explaining the existence of intestinal tumours with a different biological nature, which may represent specific targets for prevention and cure. Well-defined molecular pathways have been identified for: A) sporadic colorectal cancer ("Loss of heterozygosity pathway"); B) familial adenomatous polyposis and related polyposis syndromes; C) hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer ("mutator genes/microsatellite instability pathway"); D) cancer developing in inflammatory bowel diseases; E) familial colorectal cancer. Thus, there is consistent and considerable evidence suggesting the existence of several biological pathways leading to the same phenotypical expression (i.e., colorectal cancer), and it is likely that additional pathways will be clarified in the future. From a practical point of view, tumours with a diverse biology might offer different and more effective preventive and curative approaches.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Molecular Biology
  • Precancerous Conditions / pathology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity