DNA methylation and cancer incidence: lymphatic-hematopoietic versus solid cancers in the Strong Heart Study

Clin Epigenetics. 2021 Feb 25;13(1):43. doi: 10.1186/s13148-021-01030-8.


Background: Epigenetic alterations may contribute to early detection of cancer. We evaluated the association of blood DNA methylation with lymphatic-hematopoietic cancers and, for comparison, with solid cancers. We also evaluated the predictive ability of DNA methylation for lymphatic-hematopoietic cancers.

Methods: Blood DNA methylation was measured using the Illumina Infinium methylationEPIC array in 2324 Strong Heart Study participants (41.4% men, mean age 56 years). 788,368 CpG sites were available for differential DNA methylation analysis for lymphatic-hematopoietic, solid and overall cancers using elastic-net and Cox regression models. We conducted replication in an independent population: the Framingham Heart Study. We also analyzed differential variability and conducted bioinformatic analyses to assess for potential biological mechanisms.

Results: Over a follow-up of up to 28 years (mean 15), we identified 41 lymphatic-hematopoietic and 394 solid cancer cases. A total of 126 CpGs for lymphatic-hematopoietic cancers, 396 for solid cancers, and 414 for overall cancers were selected as predictors by the elastic-net model. For lymphatic-hematopoietic cancers, the predictive ability (C index) increased from 0.58 to 0.87 when adding these 126 CpGs to the risk factor model in the discovery set. The association was replicated with hazard ratios in the same direction in 28 CpGs in the Framingham Heart Study. When considering the association of variability, rather than mean differences, we found 432 differentially variable regions for lymphatic-hematopoietic cancers.

Conclusions: This study suggests that differential methylation and differential variability in blood DNA methylation are associated with lymphatic-hematopoietic cancer risk. DNA methylation data may contribute to early detection of lymphatic-hematopoietic cancers.

Keywords: American Indians; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Hematopoietic cancers; Lymphatic cancers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • American Indian or Alaska Native / ethnology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / ethnology
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods*
  • Epigenomics
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Lymphatic System / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / blood*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Protein Interaction Maps / genetics
  • Risk Factors