Molecular phenotypes of colorectal cancer and potential clinical applications.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Gastroenterology report (2015)


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a heterogeneous disease, arising from many possible etiological pathways. This heterogeneity can have important implications for CRC prognosis and clinical management. Epidemiological studies of CRC risk and prognosis-as well as clinical trials for the treatment of CRC-must therefore be sensitive to the molecular phenotype of colorectal tumors in patients under study. In this review, we describe four tumor markers that have been widely studied as reflections of CRC heterogeneity: (i) microsatellite instability (MSI) or DNA mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency, (ii) the CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP), and somatic mutations in (iii) BRAF and (iv) KRAS. These tumor markers have been used to better characterize CRC epidemiology and, increasingly, may be used to guide clinical decision-making. Going beyond these traditional tumor markers, we also briefly review some more novel markers likely to be of clinical significance. Lastly, recognizing that none of these individual tumor markers are isolated attributes but, rather, a reflection of broader tumor phenotypes, we review some of the hypothesized etiological pathways of CRC development and their associated clinical differences.