Genetic testing among high-risk individuals in families with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer

M. Ponz De Leon, P. Benatti, C. Di Gregorio, M. Pedroni, L. Losi, M. Genuardi, A. Viel, M. Fornasarig, E. Lucci-Cordisco, M. Anti, G. Ponti, F. Borghi, I. Lamberti, L. Roncucci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) is frequently associated with constitutional mutations in a class of genes involved in DNA mismatch repair. We identified 32 kindreds, with germline mutations in one of three genes hMSH2, hMLH1 or hMSH6. In this study, we purposed to evaluate how many high-risk individuals in each family underwent genetic testing: moreover, we assessed how many mutation-positive unaffected individuals accepted colonoscopic surveillance and the main findings of the recommended follow-up. Families were identified through a population-based registry, or referred from other centres. Members of the families were invited for an education session with two members of the staff When a kindred was consistent with HNPCC, neoplastic tissues were examined for microsatellite instability (MSI) and immunohistochemical expression of MSH2, MLH1 and MSH6 proteins. Moreover, constitutional mutations were searched by SSCP or direct sequencing of the whole genomic region. Of the 164 subjects assessed by genetic testing, 89 were gene carriers (66 affected - that is, with HNPCC-related cancer diagnosis - and 23 unaffected) and 75 tested negative. Among the 23 unaffected gene carriers, 18 (78.3%) underwent colonoscopy and four declined. On a total of 292 first degree at risk of cancer, 194 (66.4%) did not undergo genetic testing. The main reasons for this were: (a) difficulty to reach family members at risk, (b) lack of collaboration, (c) lack of interest in preventive medicine or 'fatalistic' attitude towards cancer occurrence. The number of colorectal lesions detected at endoscopy in gene carriers was significantly (P <0.01) higher than in controls (noncarriers). We conclude that a large fraction of high-risk individuals in mutation-positive HNPCC families does not undergo genetic testing, despite the benefits of molecular screening and endoscopic surveillance. This clearly indicates that there are still barriers to genetic testing in HNPCC, and that we are unable to provide adequate protection against cancer development in these families.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)882-887
Number of pages6
JournalBritish Journal of Cancer
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Feb 23 2004


  • Cancer
  • Colon
  • MSI
  • Rectum
  • Tumour

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology

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