Mechanisms of oncogenesis in colon versus rectal cancer

J Pathol. 2001 Sep;195(2):171-8. doi: 10.1002/path.918.


Observations support the theory that development of left- and right-sided colorectal cancers may involve different mechanisms. This study investigated different genes involved in oncogenesis of colon and rectal cancers and analysed their prognostic value. The study group comprised 35 colon and 42 rectal cancers. Rectal cancer patients had been treated with standardized surgery performed by an experienced rectal cancer surgeon. Mutation analysis was performed for p53 in eight colon cancers and for APC and p53 in 22 rectal cancers. MLH1, MSH2, Bcl-2, p53, E-cadherin and beta-catenin were investigated by immunohistochemistry in all colorectal tumours. APC mutation analysis of the MCR showed truncating mutations in 18 of 22 rectal tumours (82%), but the presence of an APC mutation was not related to nuclear beta-catenin expression (p=0.75). Rectal cancers showed significantly more nuclear beta-catenin than colon cancers (65% versus 40%, p=0.04). p53 mutation analysis corresponded well with p53 immunohistochemistry (p<0.001). Rectal cancers showed significantly more immunohistochemical expression of p53 than colon cancers (64% versus 29%, p=0.003). In rectal cancers, a significant correlation was found between positive p53 expression and worse disease-free survival (p=0.008), but not in colon cancers. Cox regression showed that p53-expression (p=0.03) was an independent predictor for disease-free survival in rectal cancers. This study concluded that rectal cancer may involve more nuclear beta-catenin in the APC/beta-catenin pathway than colon cancer and/or nuclear beta-catenin may have another role in rectal cancer independently of APC. The p53-pathway seems to be more important in rectal cancer, in which it also has independent prognostic value. When prognostic markers are investigated in larger series, differences in biological behaviour between colon and rectal cancer should be considered.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Genes, APC
  • Genes, p53
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism
  • Prognosis
  • Rectal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Rectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Trans-Activators*
  • beta Catenin


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CTNNB1 protein, human
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Trans-Activators
  • beta Catenin