Cancer risk associated with key epigenetic changes occurring through normal aging process

IMAGE: A schematic of the study results show stochastic (random) gains in DNA methylation at CpG sites (black circles) occur in developmental regulator genes during tumorigenesis or normal aging compared to… view more 

Credit: Cancer Cell

Some scientists have hypothesized that tumor-promoting changes in cells during cancer development–particularly an epigenetic change involving DNA methylation–arise from rogue cells escaping a natural cell deterioration process called senescence. Now, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center demonstrated that instead, tumor-associated epigenetic states evolve erratically during early stages of tumor development, eventually selecting for a subset of genes that undergo the most changes during normal aging and in early tumor development.

The work, published in the Feb. 12 issue of Cancer Cell, may help refine biomarkers of cancer risk. Screening for these genes may help stratify, for every age group, individuals with the highest risk for cancer development, the authors say.

“Aging is probably the leading risk factor for most common cancers,” says coauthor Stephen Baylin, M.D., the Virginia and Daniel K. Ludwig Professor of Cancer Research at the Kimmel Cancer Center. As epigenetic changes are reversible in laboratory models, some scientists are considering the possibility of modifying this risk factor as


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