Distinct Molecular Tumor Profile in Younger CRC Patients Recognized

Data presented at the ongoing European Cancer Congress has identified a different epigenetic profile in the tumors of younger colorectal cancer patients, information that can help improve treatment options in this population.

Tumors in young colorectal cancer (CRC) patients may have a different epigenetic profile than older patients—the discovery could improve treatment options for younger CRC patients by tailoring them per the molecular expression.

Data presented by researchers at the ongoing European Cancer Congress in Vienna, evaluated the genetic mutation profile in tumors of 126 CRC patients under 50 years of age and 368 who were older than 50 years. The patient population had either been treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center or were included in The Cancer Genome Atlas.

According to Andrea Cercek, MD, senior investigator on the study, 154 genes were hypo-methylated in the early onset patients while hyper-methylation increased with age in the younger population, above what is observed in normal tissue. “Finding such a distinctive molecular make-up in this group encourages us to believe that we may, in the future, be able to tailor treatments to them and attempt to prevent or slow down these processes in order to improve outcomes for them,” said Cercek.

CRC is the third most common cancer globally, most commonly observed among the older population, younger patients present with symptoms at a much later stage when the cancer is advanced and difficult to treat. This is usually a result of lack of symptom recognition among both patients and physicians.

“Changes in bowel habits may be attributed to Crohn’s disease, food allergies, or simply stress, for example, and doctors send younger patients for early CRC screening much less frequently than they do older ones,” according to Cercek. An assistant attending physician at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and assistant professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York, Cercek thinks that raising awareness of the increasing frequency of younger-onset CRC among clinicians is very important to improve treatment options and improve outcomes.