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Virtues and Weaknesses of DNA Methylation as a Test for Cervical Cancer Prevention. - PubMed - NCBI

Virtues and Weaknesses of DNA Methylation as a Test for Cervical Cancer Prevention. - PubMed - NCBI

 2016;60(6):501-512. Epub 2016 Nov 3.

Virtues and Weaknesses of DNA Methylation as a Test for Cervical Cancer Prevention.


Epigenetics is the study of heritable and non-heritable genetic coding that is additive to information contained within classical DNA base pair sequences. Differential methylation has a fundamental role in the development and outcome of malignancies, chronic and degenerative diseases and aging. DNA methylation can be measured accurately and easily via various molecular methods and has become a key technology for research and healthcare delivery, with immediate roles in the elucidation of disease natural history, diagnostics and drug discovery. This review focuses on cancers of the lower genital tract, for which the most epigenetic information exists. DNA methylation has been proposed as a triage for women infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) and may eventually directly complement or replace HPV screening as a one-step molecular diagnostic and prognostic test. Methylation of human genes is strongly associated with cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and cancer. Of the more than 100 human methylation biomarker genes tested so far in cervical tissue, close to 20 have been reported in different studies, and approximately 10 have been repeatedly shown to have elevated methylation in cervical cancers and high-grade CIN (CIN2 and CIN3), most prominently CADM1, EPB41L3, FAM19A4, MAL, miR-124, PAX1 and SOX1. Obtaining consistent performance data from the literature is quite difficult because most methylation studies used a variety of different assay methodologies and had incomplete and/or biased clinical specimen sets, varying assay thresholds and disparate target gene regions. There have been relatively few validation studies of DNA methylation biomarkers in large population-based screening studies, but an encouraging development more recently is the execution of well-designed studies to test the true performance of the markers in real-world settings. Methylation of HPV genes, especially HPV16, HPV18, HPV31, HPV33 and HPV45, in disease progression has been a major focus of research. Elevated methylation of the HPV16 L1 and L2 open reading frames, in particular, is associated with CIN2, CIN3 and invasive cancer. Essentially all cancers have high levels of methylation for human genes and for driver HPV types, which suggests that quantitative methylation tests may have utility in predicting CIN2 and CIN3 that are likely to progress. It is still early in the process of development of methylation biomarkers, but already they are showing strong promise as a universal and systematic approach to molecular triage, applicable to all cancers, not just cancer of the cervix. DNA methylation testing is better than HPV genotyping triage and is competitive with or complementary to other approaches such as cytology and p16 staining. Genome-wide studies are underway to systematically expand methylation classifier panels and find the best combinations of biomarkers. Methylation testing is likely to show big improvements in performance in the next 5 years.


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