Background: Previous studies have suggested DNA methylation in blood is a potential epigenetic marker of cancer risk, but this has not been evaluated on a genome-wide scale in prospective studies for breast cancer.
Methods: We measured DNA methylation at 27578 CpGs in blood samples from 298 women who developed breast cancer 0 to 5 years after enrollment in the Sister Study cohort and compared them with a random sample of 612 cohort women who remained cancer free. We also genotyped women for nine common polymorphisms associated with breast cancer.
Results: We identified 250 differentially methylated CpGs (dmCpGs) between case subjects and noncase subjects (false discovery rate [FDR] Q < 0.05). Of these dmCpGs, 75.2% were undermethylated in case subjects relative to noncase subjects. Women diagnosed within 1 year of blood draw had small but consistently greater divergence from noncase subjects than did women diagnosed at more than 1 year. Gene set enrichment analysis identified Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes cancer pathways at the recommended FDR of Q less than 0.25. Receiver operating characteristic analysis estimated a prediction accuracy of 65.8% (95% confidence interval = 61.0% to 70.5%) for methylation, compared with 56.0% for the Gail model and 58.8% for genome-wide association study polymorphisms. The prediction accuracy of just five dmCpGs (64.1%) was almost as good as the larger panel and was similar (63.1%) when replicated in a small sample of 81 women with diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Conclusions: Methylation profiling of blood holds promise for breast cancer detection and risk prediction.