Update on Hereditary Colorectal Cancer: Improving the Clinical Utility of Multigene Panel Testing

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Colorectal cancer (CRC), one of the most common cancers, is a major public health issue globally, especially in Westernized countries. Up to 35% of CRCs are thought to be due to heritable factors, but currently only 5% to 10% of CRCs are attributable to high-risk mutations in known CRC susceptibility genes, predominantly the mismatch repair genes (Lynch syndrome) and adenomatous polyposis coli gene (APC; familial adenomatous polyposis). In this era of precision medicine, high-risk mutation carriers, when identified, can be offered various risk management options that prevent cancers and improve survival, including risk-reducing medication, screening for early detection, and surgery. The practice of clinical genetics is currently transitioning from phenotype-directed single gene testing to multigene panels, now offered by numerous providers. For CRC, the genes included across these panels vary, ranging from well established, clinically actionable susceptibility genes with quantified magnitude of risk, to genes that lack extensive validation or have less evidence of association with CRC and, therefore, have minimal clinical utility. The current lack of consensus regarding inclusion of genes in CRC panels presents challenges in patient counseling and management, particularly when a variant in a less validated gene is identified. Furthermore, there remain considerable challenges regarding variant interpretation even for the well established CRC susceptibility genes. Ironically though, only through more widespread testing and the accumulation of large international data sets will sufficient information be generated to (i) enable well powered studies to determine if a gene is associated with CRC susceptibility, (ii) to develop better models for variant interpretation and (iii) to facilitate clinical translation.

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