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Genetics of Colorectal Cancer (PDQ®): Genetics - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Major Genetic Syndromes

Table 8. Clinical Practice Guidelines for Diagnosis and Colon Surveillance of Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) continued...

(Refer to the Diagnostic strategies for all individuals diagnosed with CRC [universal testing] section of this summary for information about the utilization of MSI status in the diagnostic work-up of a patient with suspected LS.)

(Refer to the Issues With Informed Consent for MSI and IHC Tumor Testing section in the Psychosocial Issues in Hereditary Colon Cancer Syndromes section of this summary for information about educational strategies and issues related to informed consent for MSI and IHC testing.)

The complexity of aberrant methylation of MMR genes

AberrantMLH1methylation in sporadic CRC

The presence of an MSI-H tumor associated with loss of MSH2, MSH6, or PMS2 protein expression strongly supports a diagnosis of LS. However, MSI-H tumors with absent MLH1 protein expression present a more complex scenario. MSI occurs in approximately 10% to 15% of sporadic CRC (generally, patients aged >50 years and with little or no family history). In sporadic CRC, absent MLH1 protein expression is a consequence of aberrant MLH1 methylation, a somatic event confined to the tumor that in the vast majority of cases is not heritable. Since loss of MLH1 protein expression occurs in both LS and sporadic tumors, its specificity for predicting germline MMR gene mutations is lower than for the other MMR proteins.

Because of this uncertainty, additional molecular testing is often necessary to clarify the etiology of MLH1 absence in these cases. Other somatic changes in colon cancers that appear to have negative predictive value for identifying individuals with germline mutations in one of the MMR genes are BRAF mutations and MLH1 promoter methylation.

Aberrant methylation of MLH1 is responsible for causing approximately 90% of sporadic MSI colon cancers.[267] Other mechanisms such as somatic MLH1 mutations may be responsible for the minority of cases where aberrant MLH1 methylation is absent.[267] In most studies, aberrant MLH1 methylation has been detected in only a small percentage of LS colon cancers in individuals with germline mutations in MLH1.[267,268,269,270] Thus, detection of aberrantly methylated MLH1 in colon cancer is more suggestive of a sporadic MSI tumor. Since assays of methylation are complex and resource-intensive, surrogate markers of MLH1 methylation have been examined. One study found that loss of immunohistochemical staining for p16 correlated strongly with both MLH1 methylation and BRAF V600E mutations (BRAF mutations are discussed in detail in the following paragraphs). However, only 30% of sporadic tumors examined in this study exhibited loss of p16 expression, limiting the utility of this assay.[271]

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