Multiclonal colorectal cancers with divergent histomorphological features and RAS mutations: one cancer or separate cancers?

Ming Tseh Lin, Gang Zheng, Li Hui Tseng, Peng Zhang, Hua Ling, Nilo Azad, Christopher D. Gocke, Elizabeth Montgomery, James R. Eshleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Detection of coexisting mutations within the same signal transduction pathway, which are expected to be mutually exclusive, raises a concern of laboratory errors. We have previously confirmed the presence of different RAS (KRAS and NRAS) mutations in the adenoma and/or adenocarcinoma subpopulations of colorectal cancers (CRCs). In this study, multiregional analyses by next-generation sequencing were conducted to elucidate the mechanisms underlying multiple RAS mutations seen in 5 CRC specimens. Multiregional analyses were initially conducted in a single tissue block originally submitted for mutational profiling. In 2 specimens, mutational status of the APC gene was not identical, indicating collisional adenoma and adenocarcinoma. In 3 specimens, the same APC mutation was present in different subpopulations with divergent RAS mutations, indicating a common clonal origin. Subsequent comprehensive multiregional analyses of additional adenoma and adenocarcinoma components revealed multiclonal CRCs with divergent histomorphological features and RAS mutations originating from a common APC-mutated founder lineage of adenoma, but from different RAS-mutated founder lineages of adenocarcinoma. These findings are consistent with the stepwise model of colorectal tumorigenesis along with parallel evolution, which affects RAS genes within the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway and occurs during the progression from adenomas to adenocarcinomas. Evaluation of tumor subpopulations with divergent histomorphological features by pathologists may help identify multiclonal CRCs. Further studies are warranted to evaluate the incidence of multiclonality in CRCs and its impact on clinical outcomes. Perhaps, multiclonal CRCs originating from the same APC-mutated founder lineage of adenoma but from different RAS-mutated founder lineages of adenocarcinomas should be defined and managed as separate CRCs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-128
Number of pages9
JournalHuman pathology
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Colorectal cancer
  • KRAS
  • Multiclonality
  • NRAS
  • Parallel evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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