Dietary and other environmental factors induce epigenetic alterations which may have important consequences for cancer development. This chapter summarizes current knowledge of the impact of dietary, lifestyle, and environmental determinants of cancer risk and proposes that effects of these exposures might be mediated, at least in part, via epigenetic mechanisms. Evidence is presented to support the hypothesis that all recognized epigenetic marks (including DNA methylation, histone modification, and microRNA (miRNA) expression) are influenced by environmental exposures, including diet, tobacco, alcohol, physical activity, stress, environmental carcinogens, genetic factors, and infectious agents which play important roles in the etiology of cancer. Some of these epigenetic modifications change the expression of tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes and, therefore, may be causal for tumorigenesis. Further work is required to understand the mechanisms through which specific environmental factors produce epigenetic changes and to identify those changes which are likely to be causal in the pathogenesis of cancer and those which are secondary, or bystander, effects. Given the plasticity of epigenetic marks in response to cancer-related exposures, such epigenetic marks are attractive candidates for the development of surrogate endpoints which could be used in dietary or lifestyle intervention studies for cancer prevention. Future research should focus on identifying epigenetic marks which are (i) validated as biomarkers for the cancer under study; (ii) readily measured in easily accessible tissues, for example, blood, buccal cells, or stool; and (iii) altered in response to dietary or lifestyle interventions for which there is convincing evidence for a relationship with cancer risk.
Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.