Early Detection Research Network

Epigenetic Aging: More Than Just a Clock When It Comes to Cancer.

The incidence of cancer, adjusted for secular trends, is directly related to age, and advanced chronologic age is one of the most significant risk factors for cancer. Organismal aging is associated with changes at the molecular, cellular, and tissue levels and is affected by both genetic and environmental factors. The specific mechanisms through which these age-associated molecular changes contribute to the increased risk of aging-related disease, such as cancer, are incompletely understood. DNA methylation, a prominent epigenetic mark, also changes over a lifetime as part of an "epigenetic aging" process. Here, we give an update and review of epigenetic aging, in particular, the phenomena of epigenetic drift and epigenetic clock, with regard to its implication in cancer etiology. We discuss the discovery of the DNA methylation-based biomarkers for biological tissue age and the construction of various epigenetic age estimators for human clinical outcomes and health/life span. Recent studies in various types of cancer point to the significance of epigenetic aging in tumorigenesis and its potential use for cancer risk prediction. Future studies are needed to assess the potential clinical impact of strategies focused on lowering cancer risk by preventing premature aging or promoting healthy aging.

Grady WM, Hazelton WD, Luebeck GE, Yu M


Cancer Res., 2020, 80 (3)

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