Epigenetics and colorectal cancer.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. It results from an accumulation of genetic and epigenetic changes in colon epithelial cells, which transforms them into adenocarcinomas. Over the past decade, major advances have been made in understanding cancer epigenetics, particularly regarding aberrant DNA methylation. Assessment of the colon cancer epigenome has revealed that virtually all CRCs have aberrantly methylated genes and that the average CRC methylome has hundreds to thousands of abnormally methylated genes. As with gene mutations in the cancer genome, a subset of these methylated genes, called driver genes, is presumed to have a functional role in CRC. The assessment of methylated genes in CRCs has also revealed a unique molecular subgroup of CRCs called CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP) cancers; these tumors have a particularly high frequency of methylated genes. These advances in our understanding of aberrant methylation in CRC have led to epigenetic alterations being developed as clinical biomarkers for diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic applications. Progress in this field suggests that these epigenetic alterations will be commonly used in the near future to direct the prevention and treatment of CRC.

  • Grady WM
  • Lao VV
PubMed ID
Appears In
Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol, 2011, 8 (12)