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Current ideas in desmoid tumours

N Julian H Sturt, Susan K Clark
Familial Cancer 2006, 5 (3): 275-85; discussion 287-8
Desmoid tumours are rare neoplasms of fibroblastic origin which arise with disproportionate frequency in patients with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). They are thought to develop in about 10-25% of FAP patients and may be the leading cause of death amongst those who have undergone colectomy. Risk factors include trauma, having a distal germline APC mutation, having a family history of desmoids, and probably oestrogens. In very high-risk individuals there may be a case for delay of colectomy or chemoprophylaxis at the time of surgery. Desmoids are now known to be true neoplasms but with normal telomere length and telomerase activity. FAP-associated tumours seem to carry biallelic APC mutations, one of which lies in the distal part of the gene. Such loss of wild-type APC seems to occur relatively late in tumour development. It is likely that beta-catenin plays an important role in tumourigenesis. FAP-associated desmoids tend to arise in the abdomen or abdominal wall. CT scanning gives the best information on tumour anatomy whilst T2-weighted MRI indicates likely behaviour. Treatment may simply consist of observation. Otherwise, usual first-line therapy is with sulindac with or without an anti-oestrogen. Cytotoxic chemotherapy is an option in unresectable tumours. Surgery is a reasonable first-line treatment in abdominal wall tumours but is risky for intra-abdominal tumours and may necessitate massive small bowel resection. Desmoids are the greatest remaining challenge in the management of FAP and further research into their aetiology needs to be combined with multicentre clinical trials of new treatments in order to improve management of the disease.

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