Fecal DNA methylation markers for detecting stages of colorectal cancer and its precursors: a systematic review

Colorectal Cancer

Clin Epigenetics. 2020 Aug 10;12(1):122. doi: 10.1186/s13148-020-00904-7.


BACKGROUND: DNA methylation biomarkers in stool may have applications in early colorectal cancer (CRC) detection; however, their association with stages of CRC carcinogenesis or their performance in detecting various stages is unclear. We aimed to systematically review the evidence for DNA methylation markers in stool for risk stratification or detection of specific CRC stages, as well as precursors of CRC.

METHODS: We conducted a systematic search in line with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. We searched PubMed and ISI Web of Knowledge to identify relevant studies published until 14th January 2020. Two reviewers independently extracted data on study population characteristics, candidate genes, methylation measurement methods, odds ratios (ORs), overall and stage-specific sensitivities, specificities, areas under the receiver operating characteristics curve, and p-values for statistical significance for OR and for association of methylation levels with stage.

RESULTS: Twenty-seven studies that reported stage-specific associations or performances of fecal DNA methylation markers for detecting colorectal neoplasms were identified. All studies used methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction for assessing methylation levels in the promoter or exon 1 regions of targeted genes. However, most studies were underpowered and limited by their case-control design. Furthermore, the stage-specific associations or sensitivities were validated for two markers (hypermethylation of GATA4 and VIM) only.

CONCLUSION: Methylation markers in stool may be useful for detection of CRC precursors or CRC staging, but promising candidate markers need to be validated in longitudinal studies on large screening populations, performing epigenome-wide analyses. Identification of stage-specific DNA methylation biomarkers in stool could boost current strategies towards early detection and enable different approaches to precision medicine for CRC.