MicroRNAs: relevant tools for a colorectal surgeon?
Colorectal cancer is the third most common malignancy and cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Approximately half of the patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer ultimately die of the condition. Death from colorectal cancer can be prevented by early detection, but unfortunately presentation is often late, with a worse prognosis. Screening by fecal occult blood testing reduces disease-specific mortality, but there is a need for sensitive and specific non-invasive biomarkers to facilitate detecting the disease, staging it, and predicting the best therapeutic options. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short noncoding RNA sequences that have a crucial role in the regulation of gene expression. They have significant regulatory functions in basic cellular processes, such as cell differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis. Evidence suggests that miRNAs may function as both tumor suppressors and oncogenes. The main mechanism for changes in the function of miRNAs in cancer cells is due to aberrant gene expression. Accurate discrimination of miRNA profiles between tumor and normal mucosa in colorectal cancer allows definition of specific expression patterns of miRNAs, giving good potential as diagnostic and therapeutic targets. MiRNAs expressed in colorectal cancers are also abundantly present and stable in stool and plasma samples. Their extraction from these three sources is feasible and reproducible. The ease and reliability of determining miRNA profiles in plasma or stool makes them potential molecular markers for colorectal cancer screening. This review summarizes the role miRNAs have in colorectal cancer, highlighting particularly the potential diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic implications in the future treatment of the disease.