Global Epigenetic Screening Technologies: a Novel Tool to Address Cancer Health Disparities in High-Risk Population Groups

Rafael Guerrero-Preston


Racial, ethnic and class disparities in cancer incidence and mortality have been well documented. Disparities in the utilization of preventive, curative and treatment services among ethnic minorities have been reported. Screening can be effective at detecting cancer at treatable stages, but a large proportion of people at risk have not been screened or are not regularly screened, as recommended by the American Cancer Society’s national guidelines. Early detection technologies have the potential of both influencing mortality from cancer, as well as enhancing primary prevention through detection and removal of lesions that could potentially develop into cancer. Cancer is an epigenetic disease characterized by the breakdown of DNA methylation and histones modification patterns. Epigenetic approaches may contribute to a reduction in cancer health disparities impacting early detection and increasing cancer treatment options. Epigenetic events represent important mechanism(s) by which gene function is selectively activated or inactivated, through genetic and non-genetic manifestations. Emerging evidence indicates that various epigenetic alterations, such as global histones modifications and DNA hypomethylation, common to most types of cancer, are modified by environmental exposures throughout the life course. A simple, easily explained and easy to understand non-invasive test, such as the DNA methylation index, that may screen for several cancer sites at once, may remove some of the existing barriers to cancer screening utilization, and contribute to the reduction of cancer disparities. Epigenetic approaches may also prove to be useful in identifying environmental and lifestyle factors that contribute to the prevalence of other chronic conditions in high risk populations, such as Puerto Rican populations in the United States and Puerto Rico.


Epigenomics; Epigenetic screening technologies; Cancer health disparities; High risk population groups; Molecular cancer screening technologies

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