The age at onset of non-polyposis colorectal cancer (CRC) was investigated in 49 families with at least three relatives affected in two successive generations. Forty one of these families satisfy the accepted minimum criteria for hereditary non-polyposis CRC. The remaining eight families were distinguished by a late age of disease onset and, hence, could not be included in the group. The condition in these latter families has been designated provisionally, as late onset familial CRC. The hereditary non-polyposis CRC families include 194 patients, 110 men and 84 women (mean age at diagnosis: 44 years; range: 16-74 years). Ninety two per cent of the patients were diagnosed by age 60. Colorectal cancer was diagnosed at progressively earlier ages in successive generations (p < 0.0005). The late onset CRC families comprised 30 patients, 20 men and 10 women (mean age at diagnosis: 62 years; range: 51-77 years). Fifty eight per cent of the CRCs in the patients belonging to the hereditary non-polyposis CRC families were located in the right colon compared with 13% in the late onset familial CRC group (p < 0.001). Multiple CRCs were found in 23% of the cases in the former but in only 3% in the latter families (p < 0.05). Adenomas associated with CRC were reported in 14.5% of the cases in the hereditary non-polyposis CRC families and in 30% of the cases in the late onset familial CRC group (p = NS). Extracolonic cancers, frequently encountered in hereditary non-polyposis CRC, were not found in the late onset CRC families. These findings indicate that there is a distinct clinical entity of non-polyposis CRC in which colorectal cancer develops at a more advanced age than in hereditary non-polyposis CRC. Future molecular genetic studies should confirm this hypothesis. In the meantime, recognition of these late onset familial CRC families, which will rest on clinical observations, is important because of the implications for the screening protocol.
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