It is well established that microsatellite instability (MSI), the hallmark of defective DNA mismatch repair (MMR), is associated with prolonged survival in colorectal cancer compared with tumours that are microsatellite stable (MSS). MSI in sporadic colorectal tumours is primarily due to epigenetic silencing of MLH1. However, there are no prospective population-based studies of survival in patients with germline MMR gene mutations who develop cancer. Although MSI is almost universal in tumours from HNPCC family members, there is a potential confounding effect of ascertainment and other biases that could explain the apparent survival benefit in HNPCC families. Resolving whether germline MMR gene mutations impact on survival is important because it potentially undermines the rationale for surveillance of mutation carriers. Here, we report an investigation of the influence of MSI on survival in cohorts of cancer patients (aged < 30 years at diagnosis, n = 118; non-age-selected, n = 181) in the context of clinicopathologic variables. There was a substantial age-related influence of tumour MSI status on survival. In young patients with tumour MSI, 65% of patients with MSI tumours had germline MSH2 or MLH1 mutations. Clinicopathologic variables and tumour MSI of the cohort were studied with respect to survival and compared with control groups. Young patients had excess MSI tumours (p < 0.000001), mucinous tumours (p < 0.01), advanced disease (p approximately 0.001) and poorer 5-year survival compared with older cases. Cox proportional hazard analysis identified Dukes' stage, age at diagnosis and calendar year of treatment as independent predictors of survival. There was no detectable association between tumour MSI and survival in young patients, although we confirmed previous observations that MSI is associated with better prognosis in later onset cohorts. These findings underscore the rationale for surveillance and early identification of tumours in MMR gene carriers as well as refining understanding of the influence of MSI on cancer progression.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.