The increasing roles of epigenetics in breast cancer: Implications for pathogenicity, biomarkers, prevention and treatment

Int J Cancer. 2015 Dec 15;137(12):2785-94. doi: 10.1002/ijc.29347. Epub 2014 Dec 1.


Nowadays, the mechanisms governing the occurrence of cancer are thought to be the consequence not only of genetic defects but also of epigenetic modifications. Therefore, epigenetic has become a very attractive and increasingly investigated field of research in order to find new ways of prevention and treatment of neoplasia, and this is particularly the case for breast cancer (BC). Thus, this review will first develop the main known epigenetic modifications that can occur in cancer and then expose the future role that control of epigenetic modifications might play in prevention, prognostication, follow-up and treatment of BC. Indeed, epigenetic biomarkers found in peripheral blood might become new tools to detect BC, to define its prognostic and to predict its outcome, whereas epi-drugs might have an increasing potential of development in the next future. However, if DNA methyltransferase inhibitors and histone desacetylase inhibitors have shown encouraging results in BC, their action remains nonspecific. Thus, additional clinical studies are needed to evaluate more precisely the effects of these molecules, even if they have provided encouraging results in cotreatment and combined therapies. This review will also deal with the potential of RNA interference (RNAi) as epi-drugs. Finally, we will focus on the potential prevention of BC through epigenetic based on diet and we will particularly develop the possible place of isothiocyanates from cruciferous vegetables or of Genistein from soybean in a dietary program that might potentially reduce the risk of BC in large populations.

Keywords: biomarker; breast cancer; diet; epigenetics; prevention; prognosis; treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • MicroRNAs