BACKGROUND: There are profound individual differences in clinical outcomes between colorectal cancers (CRCs) presenting with identical stage of disease. Molecular stratification, in conjunction with the traditional TNM staging, is a promising way to predict patient outcomes. We investigated the interconnectivity between tumor stage and tumor biology reflected by the Consensus Molecular Subtypes (CMSs) in CRC, and explored the possible value of these insights in patients with stage II colon cancer. METHODS: We performed a retrospective analysis using clinical records and gene expression profiling in a meta-cohort of 1040 CRC patients. The interconnectivity of tumor biology and disease stage was assessed by investigating the association between CMSs and TNM classification. In order to validate the clinical applicability of our findings we employed a meta-cohort of 197 stage II colon cancers. RESULTS: CMS4 was significantly more prevalent in advanced stages of disease (stage I 9.8% versus stage IV 38.5%, p < 0.001). The observed differential gene expression between cancer stages is at least partly explained by the biological differences as reflected by CMS subtypes. Gene signatures for stage III-IV and CMS4 were highly correlated (r = 0.77, p < 0.001). CMS4 cancers showed an increased progression rate to more advanced stages (CMS4 compared to CMS2: 1.25, 95% CI: 1.08-1.46). Patients with a CMS4 cancer had worse survival in the high-risk stage II tumors compared to the total stage II cohort (5-year DFS 41.7% versus 100.0%, p = 0.008). CONCLUSIONS: Considerable interconnectivity between tumor biology and tumor stage in CRC exists. This implies that the TNM stage, in addition to the stage of progression, might also reflect distinct biological disease entities. These insights can potentially be utilized to optimize identification of high-risk stage II colon cancers.

, , , ,,
BMC Cancer
Department of Surgery