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Nutr Cancer. 2004;48(2):124-41.

Colorectal cancer and the relationship between genes and the environment.

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  • 1Northern Ireland Center for Diet and Health, Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland BT52 1SA. p.heavey@ulster.ac.uk


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in developed countries, with both genetic and environmental factors contributing to the etiology and progression of the disease. Several risk factors have been identified, including positive family history, red meat intake, smoking, and alcohol intake. Protective factors include vegetables, calcium, hormone replacement therapy, folate, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical activity. The interaction between these environmental factors, in particular diet and genes, is an area of growing interest. Currently, oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, and mismatch repair genes are believed to play an essential role in colorectal carcinogenesis. When considering the genetics of CRC, only 10% of cases are inherited and only 2-6% can be ascribed to the highly penetrant genes, such as APC, hMLH and hMSH2. Lower penetrance genes combined with a Western-style diet contribute to the majority of sporadic CRCs. The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of the epidemiologic studies that have been conducted and present the major findings. Here, we examine the molecular events in CRC, with particular focus on the interaction between genes and environment, and review the most current research in this area.

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