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Disease Markers
Volume 23, Issue 1-2, Pages 51-71

DNA Methylation in Colorectal cancer—Impact on Screening and Therapy Monitoring Modalities?

Marion Zitt,1,2 Matthias Zitt,1 and Hannes M. Müller1

1Department of General and Transplant Surgery, Innsbruck Medical University, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria
2Tyrolean Cancer Research Institute, Innrain 66, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria

Received 18 January 2007; Accepted 18 January 2007

Copyright © 2007 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a common malignancy. It arises from benign neoplasms and evolves into adenocarcinomas through a stepwise histological progression sequence, proceeding from either adenomas or hyperplastic polyps/serrated adenomas. Genetic alterations have been associated with specific steps in this adenoma-carcinoma sequence and are believed to drive the histological progression of CRC. Recently, epigenetic alterations (especially DNA methylation) have been shown to occur in colon polyps and CRC. The aberrant methylation of genes appears to act together with genetic alterations to drive the initiation and progression of colon polyps to CRC.

DNA methylation changes have been recognized as one of the most common molecular alterations in human tumors, including CRC. Because of the ubiquity of DNA methylation changes and the ability to detect methylated DNA in several body fluids (blood, stool), this specifically altered DNA may serve, on the one hand, as a possible new screening marker for CRC and, on the other hand, as a tool for therapy monitoring in patients having had neoplastic disease of the colorectum.

As many CRC patients present with advanced disease, early detection seems to be one of the most important approaches to reduce mortality. Therefore, an effective screening test would have substantial clinical benefits. Furthermore, early detection of progression of disease in patients having had CRC permits immediate commencement of specific treatment regimens (e.g. curative resection of liver and lung metastases) and probably longer survival and better quality of life.