Background: A survival paradox of stage IIB/IIC and IIIA colon cancer has been consistently observed throughout revisions of the TNM system. This study aimed to understand this paradox with clinicopathological and molecular differences. Methods: Clinicopathological characteristics of patients with pathologically confirmed stage IIB/IIC or IIIA colon cancer were retrospectively reviewed from a database. Publicly available molecular data were retrieved, and intrinsic subtypes were identified and subjected to gene sets enrichment analysis (GSEA). Results: Among the 159 patients included in the clinicopathological analysis, those at stage IIB/IIC had worse 3-year disease-free and overall survival than those at stage IIIA (59.3% vs 91.7%, P < 0.001 and 82.7% vs 98.5%, P < 0.001, respectively), even after adjusting for confounding factors. Data of 95 patients were retrieved from public databases, demonstrating a higher frequency of the microsatellite instable subtype in stage IIB/IIC. The consensus molecular subtype distribution pattern differed between the groups. The GSEA further suggested the protumor inflammatory reaction might be more prominent in stage IIB/IIC. Conclusions: The survival paradox in colon cancer was confirmed and appears to be a multifactorial phenomenon not attributed to a single clinicopathologic factor. However, the greater molecular heterogeneity in stage IIB/IIC could contribute to the poor prognosis.
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