The discovery may lead to a new genetic test for colorectal cancer risk, Pasche and colleagues note.
The mutation, which lies in a gene called TGFBR1, was found in about 10% to 20% of the 242 colorectal cancer patients the researchers studied, compared to 3% of 195 adults without colorectal cancer.
The researchers calculate that carriers of the gene mutation may be nearly nine times more likely to develop colorectal cancer, compared to people without the gene mutation.
Those estimates need to be checked in other, more diverse studies, since most of the participants were white adults in Columbus, Ohio.
Still, "the fact that we saw this abnormal difference in gene expression in at least 10% of the colon cancer patients and in very few people without colon cancer strongly suggests that it plays an important role in this disease," Ohio State University's Albert de la Chapelle states in a news release.
The researchers aren't recommending TGFBR1 gene tests just yet. But such tests "may become part of clinical practice when evaluating a patient's colon cancer risk," states de la Chapelle.