The Role of Epigenomics in the Study of Cancer Biomarkers and in the Development of Diagnostic Tools

Epigenetics plays a key role in cancer development. Genetics alone cannot explain sporadic cancer and cancer development in individuals with no family history or a weak family history of cancer. Epigenetics provides a mechanism to explain the development of cancer in such situations.

Alterations in epigenetic profiling may provide important insights into the etiology and natural history of cancer. Because several epigenetic changes occur before histopathological changes, they can serve as biomarkers for cancer diagnosis and risk assessment. Many cancers may remain asymptomatic until relatively late stages; in managing the disease, efforts should be focused on early detection, accurate prediction of disease progression, and frequent monitoring. This chapter describes epigenetic biomarkers as they are expressed during cancer development and their potential use in cancer diagnosis and prognosis. Based on epigenomic information, biomarkers have been identified that may serve as diagnostic tools; some such biomarkers also may be useful in identifying individuals who will respond to therapy and survive longer. The importance of analytical and clinical validation of biomarkers is discussed, along with challenges and opportunities in this field.

Advances in experimental medicine and biology. 2015 [Epub]

Mukesh Verma

Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Suite# 4E102. 9609 Medical Center Drive, MSC 9763, Bethesda, MD, 20892-9726, USA.