Author(s): Pancione M, Remo A, Colantuoni V
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most common causes of death, despite decades of research. Initially considered as a disease due to genetic mutations, it is now viewed as a complex malignancy because of the involvement of epigenetic abnormalities. A functional equivalence between genetic and epigenetic mechanisms has been suggested in CRC initiation and progression. A hallmark of CRC is its pathogenetic heterogeneity attained through at least three distinct pathways: a traditional (adenoma-carcinoma sequence), an alternative, and more recently the so-called serrated pathway. While the alternative pathway is more heterogeneous and less characterized, the traditional and serrated pathways appear to be more homogeneous and clearly distinct. One unsolved question in colon cancer biology concerns the cells of origin and from which crypt compartment the different pathways originate. Based on molecular and pathological evidences, we propose that the traditional and serrated pathways originate from different crypt compartments explaining their genetic/epigenetic and clinicopathological differences. In this paper, we will discuss the current knowledge of CRC pathogenesis and, specifically, summarize the role of genetic/epigenetic changes in the origin and progression of the multiple CRC pathways. Elucidation of the link between the molecular and clinico-pathological aspects of CRC would improve our understanding of its etiology and impact both prevention and treatment.