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Genetic architecture of colorectal cancer
  1. Ulrike Peters1,2,
  2. Stephanie Bien1,
  3. Niha Zubair1
  1. 1Public Health Sciences Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington, USA
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology, University of Washington School of Public Health, Seattle, Washington, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr U Peters, Dr S Rosse Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 1100 Fairview Ave N, M4-B402, PO Box 19024, Seattle, WA 98109, USA; upeters{at} srosse{at}


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a complex disease that develops as a consequence of both genetic and environmental risk factors. A small proportion (3–5%) of cases arise from hereditary syndromes predisposing to early onset CRC as a result of mutations in over a dozen well defined genes. In contrast, CRC is predominantly a late onset ‘sporadic’ disease, developing in individuals with no obvious hereditary syndrome. In recent years, genome wide association studies have discovered that over 40 genetic regions are associated with weak effects on sporadic CRC, and it has been estimated that increasingly large genome wide scans will identify many additional novel genetic regions. Subsequent experimental validations have identified the causally related variant(s) in a limited number of these genetic regions. Further biological insight could be obtained through ethnically diverse study populations, larger genetic sequencing studies and development of higher throughput functional experiments. Along with inherited variation, integration of the tumour genome may shed light on the carcinogenic processes in CRC. In addition to summarising the genetic architecture of CRC, this review discusses genetic factors that modify environmental predictors of CRC, as well as examples of how genetic insight has improved clinical surveillance, prevention and treatment strategies. In summary, substantial progress has been made in uncovering the genetic architecture of CRC, and continued research efforts are expected to identify additional genetic risk factors that further our biological understanding of this disease. Subsequently these new insights will lead to improved treatment and prevention of colorectal cancer.


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