Background: Previous reports have indicated that 5-13 per cent of colorectal cancer is hereditary. However, the proportion of cases arising as a result of mutations in the hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) genes remains to be determined.
Methods: This study is a part prospective, part retrospective review of all cases of colorectal cancer from a district hospital over 14 years. Some 1137 consecutive patients with colorectal cancer were questioned about their family history of cancer and details were logged on a database. For the past 4 years each case has been re-evaluated where possible.
Results: Some 118 patients indicated initially that they had a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer, but on re-evaluation there were significant discrepancies. Only three cases (0.3 per cent) occurred in families which strictly fulfilled the criteria for HNPCC and there were no cases of familial adenomatous polyposis. A total of 16 patients (1.4 per cent) fulfilled looser criteria for HNPCC.
Conclusion: This population-based study has shown a lower frequency of familial bowel cancer than previous studies and may reflect a lower incidence of inherited mutations in the HNPCC DNA mismatch repair genes than is currently accepted.