Department of Surgery, University Hospital Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
Embryological and physiological data suggest that proximal (in relation to the splenic flexure) and distal parts of the colon represent distinct anatomical and functional entities. Since 1990, molecular biologists have identified two distinct pathways, microsatellite instability (MSI) and chromosomal instability (CIN), which are involved in the pathogenesis of colon cancer (CC). Thus, a new paradigm has emerged with the discovery that CC is a heterogeneous disease; furthermore recent data have demonstrated that these two distinct pathways in colorectal carcinogenesis are characterized by a different clinical outcome. The implications for the clinicians are twofold; (1) tumors originating from the proximal colon have a better prognosis due to a high percentage of MSI-positive lesions; and (2) location of the neoplasm in reference to the splenic flexure should be documented before group stratification in ongoing trials of adjuvant chemotherapy for CC. In the future, clinical decision-making regarding adjuvant chemotherapy might be stratified according to the MSI status of cancers located proximally to the splenic flexure.