Molecular genetics and epigenetics of the cytochrome P450 gene family and its relevance for cancer risk and treatment

Hum Genet. 2010 Jan;127(1):1-17. doi: 10.1007/s00439-009-0748-0. Epub 2009 Oct 8.


The cytochromes P450 (CYPs) are very efficient catalysts of foreign compound metabolism and are responsible for the major part of metabolism of clinically important drugs. The enzymes are important in cancer since they (a) activate dietary and environmental components to ultimate carcinogens, (b) activate or inactivate drugs used for cancer treatment, and (c) are potential targets for anticancer therapy. The genes encoding the CYP enzymes active in drug metabolism are highly polymorphic, whereas those encoding metabolism of precarcinogens are relatively conserved. A vast amount of literature is present where investigators have tried to link genetic polymorphism in CYPs to cancer susceptibility, although not much conclusive data have hitherto been obtained, with exception of CYP2A6 polymorphism and tobacco induced cancer, to a great extent because of lack of important functional polymorphisms in the genes studied. With respect to anticancer treatment, the genetic CYP polymorphism is of greater importance, where treatment with tamoxifen, but also with cyclophosphamide and maybe thalidomide is influenced by CYP genetic variants. In the present review we present updates on CYP genetics, cancer risk and treatment and also epigenetic aspects of interindividual variability in CYP expression and the use of these enzymes as targets for cancer therapy. We conclude that the CYP polymorphism does not predict cancer susceptibility to any large extent but that this polymorphism might be an important factor for optimal cancer therapy using selected anticancer agents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Multigene Family
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Risk Factors


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System