Unraveling Family Cancer Ties

Colorectal cancer family history spawns more aggressive forms of the disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Having a family history of any kind of cancer isn’t a bright spot for your own odds. It’s just part of nature over which we have no control. In terms of colorectal cancer, new understandings may help avoid a nightmare journey.

Recent research finds that a family history of colorectal cancer can cause more aggressive cancers in relatives who develop the disease. These tumors usually carry a marker that indicates the presence of a wicked form of colorectal cancer.

"If you’re over 50, get a colonoscopy."

That means tests for this tumor marker could be developed to possibly help prevent, treat and manage deadly colorectal cancers.

This research may open the way for tests to identify this molecule in colorectal tumors, which in turn could alert clinicians that more aggressive therapies should be used.

This new understanding could also one day help prevent the disease from ravaging relatives.

Dana-Farber researchers Shuji Ogino, MD, PhD and Charles Fuchs, MD, MPH, looked at information from the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, both of which follow the health of tens of thousands of people for decades. The investigators were specifically looking at people with a family history of colorectal cancer.

Patients who had a specific type of cellular confusion called LINE-1 hypomethylation had the most aggressive cancers.

"Because this variety of colorectal cancer can quickly become dangerous, testing colorectal cancer patients for tumor LINE-1 hypomethylation may offer a valuable way of identifying those in greatest need of aggressive treatment,” said Dr. Ogino, who is associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School and associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.

“Such testing could also help identify patients whose relatives may be at increased risk for the aggressive form of the disease. Further study is needed to determine how this type of testing can be used in a clinical setting," Dr. Ogino said in a press release.

This study was published in the December issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, the Bennett Family Fund for Targeted Therapies Research and the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 14, 2012
Last Updated:
July 5, 2013