DNA methylation profiles within whole-blood samples have been reported to be associated with colorectal cancer (CRC) occurrence and might enable risk stratification for CRC. We systematically reviewed and summarized studies addressing the association of whole-blood DNA methylation markers and risk of developing CRC or its precursors. We searched PubMed and ISI Web of Knowledge to identify relevant studies published until 12th November 2018. Two reviewers independently extracted data on study population characteristics, candidate genes, methylation measurement methods, methylation levels of patients in comparison to healthy controls, p
-values, and odds ratios of the markers. Overall, 19 studies reporting 102 methylation markers for risk assessment of colorectal neoplasms met our inclusion criteria. The studies mostly used Methylation Specific Polymerase Chain Reaction (MS-PCR) for assessing the methylation status of a defined set of genes. Only two studies applied array-based genome-wide assays to assess the methylation levels. Five studies incorporated panels consisting of 2–10 individual methylation markers to assess their potential for stratifying the risk of developing colorectal neoplasms. However, none of these associations was confirmed in an independent cohort. In conclusion, whole-blood DNA methylation markers may be useful as biomarkers for risk stratification in CRC screening, but reproducible risk prediction algorithms are yet to be established by large scale epigenome-wide studies with thorough validation of results in prospective study cohorts including large screening populations. The possibilities of enhancing predictive power by combining methylation data with polygenetic risk scores and environmental risk factors need to be explored.
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