Gastrointestinal malignancies account for about 20% of all cancers worldwide. It is widely accepted that cancer evolves through several stepwise morphological stages such as the adenomacarcinoma and hyperplastic polyp-serrated adenoma-carcinoma sequences in colorectal cancers, and the metaplasia-dysplasia-carcinoma sequences in esophageal and gastric cancers. The morphological progression is associated with the accumulation of multiple genetic and epigenetic events. It is now recognized that epigenetic silencing of gene expression by CpG island methylation is an important alternative mechanism of inactivating tumor suppressor genes. Inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal and pancreaticobiliary tracts and liver such as Barrett esophagus, Helicobacter pylori gastritis, inflammatory bowel disease and viral hepatitis, are associated with increased frequency of malignancies and CpG methylation. In addition, CpG methylation is present in aberrant crypt foci and pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia that are considered putative precursors of colon and pancreatic carcinomas, respectively. Understanding of these early genetic and epigenetic changes allows for the discoveries of potential screening, monitoring and therapeutic strategies. Targeting of the epigenetic changes that occur before the development of frank malignancy offers a potential chemopreventive strategy.
Keywords: CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP), Epigenetic silencing, hyperplastic polyps, Aberrant crypt foci, DNA methylation markers
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