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Curr Opin Oncol. 2011 Jan;23(1):69-76. doi: 10.1097/CCO.0b013e3283412eb4.

DNA methylation and cancer: ghosts and angels above the genes.

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  • 1Department of Medical Biology, School of Medicine, University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia.



To discuss recent advances in the field of DNA methylation and their impact on our understanding of the role of this epigenetic mechanism in cancer development, as well as their implications for biomarker discovery and therapy.


Epigenetics is a new frontier in cancer research with tremendous impact on our thinking and understanding of biological phenomena and complex diseases, notably cancer. Over the past decade there has been remarkable progress in our knowledge of the importance of epigenetic events in the control of both normal cellular processes and abnormal events associated with tumor development and progression. DNA methylation is a major epigenetic mechanism that is most intensively studied in the context of gene regulation and unscheduled silencing in cancer cells. Although hypermethylation of gene promoters is in turn associated with gene inactivation, the precise consequences of genome-wide hypomethylation are still debated. Recent studies have shed new light on the mechanisms underlying both promoter-specific hypermethylation and global hypomethylation in cancer cells and identified potential targets for biomarker discovery and therapeutic intervention.


Recent conceptual advances in the field of DNA methylation and the advent and rapid development of new technologies in epigenomics have started to unravel the mechanisms underlying aberrant DNA methylation in cancer cells and identify novel targets for diagnosis, risk assessment and therapy.

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