Background: Good biomarkers for early detection of cancer lead to better prognosis. However, harvesting tumor tissue is invasive and cannot be routinely performed. Global DNA methylation of peripheral blood leukocyte DNA was evaluated as a biomarker for cancer risk.
Methods: We performed a meta-analysis to estimate overall cancer risk according to global DNA hypomethylation levels among studies with various cancer types and analytical methods used to measure DNA methylation. Studies were systemically searched via PubMed with no language limitation up to July 2011. Summary estimates were calculated using a fixed effects model.
Results: The subgroup analyses by experimental methods to determine DNA methylation level were performed due to heterogeneity within the selected studies (p<0.001, I(2): 80%). Heterogeneity was not found in the subgroup of %5-mC (p = 0.393, I(2): 0%) and LINE-1 used same target sequence (p = 0.097, I(2): 49%), whereas considerable variance remained in LINE-1 (p<0.001, I(2): 80%) and bladder cancer studies (p = 0.016, I(2): 76%). These results suggest that experimental methods used to quantify global DNA methylation levels are important factors in the association study between hypomethylation levels and cancer risk. Overall, cancer risks of the group with the lowest DNA methylation levels were significantly higher compared to the group with the highest methylation levels [OR (95% CI): 1.48 (1.28-1.70)].
Conclusions: Global DNA hypomethylation in peripheral blood leukocytes may be a suitable biomarker for cancer risk. However, the association between global DNA methylation and cancer risk may be different based on experimental methods, and region of DNA targeted for measuring global hypomethylation levels as well as the cancer type. Therefore, it is important to select a precise and accurate surrogate marker for global DNA methylation levels in the association studies between global DNA methylation levels in peripheral leukocyte and cancer risk.