Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer: the rise and fall of a confusing term

World J Gastroenterol. 2006 Aug 21;12(31):4943-50. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v12.i31.4943.


The term Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC) is a poor descriptor of the syndrome described by Lynch. Over the last decade, the term has been applied to heterogeneous groups of families meeting limited clinical criteria, for example the Amsterdam criteria. It is now apparent that not all Amsterdam criteria-positive families have the Lynch syndrome. The term HNPCC has also been applied to clinical scenarios in which CRCs with DNA microsatellite instability are diagnosed but in which there is no vertical transmission of an altered DNA mismatch repair (MMR) gene. A term that has multiple, mutually incompatible meanings is highly problematic, particularly when it may influence the management of an individual family. The Lynch syndrome is best understood as a hereditary predisposition to malignancy that is explained by a germline mutation in a DNA MMR gene. The diagnosis does not depend in an absolute sense on any particular family pedigree structure or age of onset of malignancy. Families with a strong family history of colorectal cancer that do not have Lynch syndrome have been grouped as 'Familial Colorectal Cancer Type-X'. The first step in characterizing these cancer families is to distinguish them from Lynch syndrome. The term HNPCC no longer serves any useful purpose and should be phased out.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / classification*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms, Hereditary Nonpolyposis / classification*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms, Hereditary Nonpolyposis / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms, Hereditary Nonpolyposis / genetics
  • DNA Repair
  • Family Health
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Terminology as Topic