Human cancer genomes are characterized by widespread aberrations in DNA methylation patterns including DNA hypomethylation of mostly repetitive sequences and hypermethylation of numerous CpG islands. The analysis of DNA methylation patterns in cancer has progressed from single gene studies examining potentially important candidate genes to a more global analysis where all or almost all promoter and CpG island sequences can be analyzed. We provide a brief overview of these genome-scale methylation-profiling techniques, summarize some of the information that has been obtained with these approaches, and discuss what we have learned about the specificity of methylation aberrations in cancer at a genome-wide level. The challenge is now to identify those methylation changes that are thought to be crucial for the processes of tumor initiation, tumor progression, or metastasis and distinguish these from methylation changes that are merely passenger events that accompany the transformation process but have no effect per se on the process of carcinogenesis.
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