Telomere length and genetics are independent colorectal tumour risk factors in an evaluation of biomarkers in normal bowel.
Fernandez-Rozadilla C., Kartsonaki C., Woolley C., McClellan M., Whittington D., Horgan G., Leedham S., Kriaucionis S., East J., Tomlinson I.
BACKGROUND: Colorectal cancer (CRC) screening might be improved by using a measure of prior risk to modulate screening intensity or the faecal immunochemical test threshold. Intermediate molecular biomarkers could aid risk prediction by capturing both known and unknown risk factors. METHODS: We sampled normal bowel mucosa from the proximal colon, distal colon and rectum of 317 individuals undergoing colonoscopy. We defined cases as having a personal history of colorectal polyp(s)/cancer, and controls as having no history of colorectal neoplasia. Molecular analyses were performed for: telomere length (TL); global methylation; and the expression of genes in molecular pathways associated with colorectal tumourigenesis. We also calculated a polygenic risk score (PRS) based on CRC susceptibility polymorphisms. RESULTS: Bowel TL was significantly longer in cases than controls, but was not associated with blood TL. PRS was significantly and independently higher in cases. Hypermethylation showed a suggestive association with case:control status. No gene or pathway was differentially expressed between cases and controls. Gene expression often varied considerably between bowel locations. CONCLUSIONS: PRS and bowel TL (but not blood TL) may be clinically-useful predictors of CRC risk. Sample collection to assess these biomarkers is feasible in clinical practice, especially where population screening uses flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.