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J Cell Biochem Suppl. 1992;16G:41-6.

The adenoma-adenocarcinoma sequence in the large bowel: variations on a theme.

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  • Department of Pathology and Oncology Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205.


Most adenocarcinomas of the colorectum arise in a visible benign precursor lesion, the adenoma, which is a monoclonal proliferation of dysplastic nonmalignant epithelial cells. The resultant adenoma-adenocarcinoma sequence represents the predominant pathogenetic pathway, in contrast to de novo carcinoma. Therefore, the adenoma is a tempting endpoint for chemoprevention trials. The adenoma-adenocarcinoma sequence occurs in diverse clinical settings. In familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) syndrome, autosomal dominant inheritance of the mutated APC (adenomatous polyposis coli) gene on chromosome 5q21 typically results in thousands of adenomas in the colorectum and in lesser numbers in the proximal small bowel. Adenocarcinoma usually develops in only a few of these adenomas, typically in the left colon and duodenum. In hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) syndrome, autosomal dominant inheritance of an unidentified gene appears to result in small numbers of adenomas which progress frequently to adenocarcinoma, predominantly in the right or transverse colon. In familial aggregation of colorectal cancer without a recognizable syndrome, cancer and/or adenomas occur in pedigree members. In "sporadic" cancers and adenomas, family history is absent and the tumors are mainly in the left colon. Colorectal adenomas have variable characteristics including size, shape (polypoid vs. flat), villous architecture, and dysplasia. A variety of oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes are altered during progression. Epigenetic factors are important as evidenced by the disappearance of adenomas in FAP patients after ileorectal anastomosis or treatment with the nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug sulindac. Several variations on the theme of the adenoma-carcinoma sequence are evident. Identification of the inherited and acquired genetic alterations as well as the interacting environmental factors will provide a rational basis for chemoprevention.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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