Esophageal cancer is one of the most common malignancies in the world. Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for approximately 90 % of esophageal cancer cases. Genetic and epigenetic changes have been found to accumulate during the development of various cancers, including esophageal squamous carcinoma (ESCC). Tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption are two major risk factors for ESCC, and both tobacco and alcohol were found to induce methylation changes in ESCC. Growing evidence demonstrates that aberrant epigenetic changes play important roles in the multiple-step processes of carcinogenesis and tumor progression. DNA methylation may occur in the key components of cancer-related signaling pathways. Aberrant DNA methylation affects genes involved in cell cycle, DNA damage repair, Wnt, TGF-β, and NF-κB signaling pathways, including P16, MGMT, SFRP2, DACH1, and ZNF382. Certain genes methylated in precursor lesions of the esophagus demonstrate that DNA methylation may serve as esophageal cancer early detection marker, such as methylation of HIN1, TFPI-2, DACH1, and SOX17. CHFR methylation is a late stage event in ESCC and is a sensitive marker for taxanes in human ESCC. FHIT methylation is associated with poor prognosis in ESCC. Aberrant DNA methylation changes may serve as diagnostic, prognostic, and chemo-sensitive markers. Characterization of the DNA methylome in ESCC will help to better understand its mechanisms and develop improved therapies.
Keywords: CHFR; DNA damage repair; DNA methylation; Epigenome; Esophageal cancer; Wnt signaling.