Background & aims: Microsatellite instability is a property of most tumors occurring in the context of hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer. Instability also occurs in 10%-15% of apparently sporadic colorectal cancers, and it has been hypothesized that this instability may indicate a genetic predisposition to colonic cancer. This study evaluated whether there is a clinically useful association between colon cancer instability and a family history of cancer.
Methods: Colon cancer cases (n = 188) from a population-based study were evaluated for microsatellite instability with 10 polymerase chain reaction primer sets. Instability results were compared with family history and other clinical and biological characteristics.
Results: Microsatellite instability was found in 16.5% of tumors. It was predominantly a feature of right-sided tumors (P = 0.003) and was associated with the youngest and oldest ages at diagnosis (P = 0.01). Instability was not associated with family history of cancer, sex of the individual, or the glutathione-S-transferase mu 1 null genotype.
Conclusions: Although some very small, and as yet undefined, proportion of colon cancer may be caused by inherited mutations leading to microsatellite instability, tumoral instability by itself is not a marker for familiality and should not be considered as evidence for an inherited syndrome.