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Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) is an autosomal dominant cancer syndrome characterized by early onset of colorectal carcinomas (CRC). Recently, two HNPCC genes have been mapped and cloned, one in the short arm of chromosome 2 and another in the short arm of chromosome 3. There has been a major controversy about the frequency of HNPCC. The few estimates available have been based on series selected by age or series representing local area. The purpose of the present study was to design a nonselected, prospective, multicenter study, taking into account the family background and other risk factors of CRC.The proportion of HNPCC of all (N=406) CRC cases was evaluated in a prospective multicenter study. Family history and other risk factors were investigated over a 12-month period for all new CRC patients in ten hospitals. These cases constituted 23 percent of all CRCs diagnosed in Finland during the study period.Three (0.7 percent) cases of verified and seven (1.7 percent) cases of suspected HNPCC were identified, following the evaluation of all families with features indicative of susceptibility to cancer. The proportion of identifiable risk factors of CRC was 5.8-7.5 percent (HNPCC, 0.7-2.4 percent; previous CRC, 3.4 percent; ulcerative colitis, 1.0 percent; familial adenomatous polyposis coli, 0.7 percent). CONCLUSION. This prospective multicenter study revealed that the frequency of hereditary colorectal cancer is lower than in some previous studies, when diagnosis is based on extensive pedigree analysis. This result with recent findings of common ancestral founding mutation in Finnish HNPCC families indicates that there may be geographic differences in the occurrence of HNPCC. However, this does not change the fact that identification of HNPCC—perhaps one of the most common inherited diseases identified in humans—has become a question of vital importance now when diagnosis of the syndrome and largescale screening of gene carriers using specific tests are on the horizon.