Colorectal cancer is the most common malignancy of the gastrointestinal tract and a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. In order to detect early precursor lesions, colonoscopy is widely used. Unfortunately, patient adherence to colonoscopy is poor, which is partially due to the modest performance of currently used prescreening tests. Recently, epigenetics added an additional layer to the understanding of colorectal carcinogenesis. DNA methylation as part of the epigenetic gene-silencing complex is a universally occurring change in colorectal cancer and arises prior to the onset of recognizable preneoplastic changes, which may have huge preventive implications. Herein we discuss the major developments in the field of colorectal carcinogenesis and DNA methylation, including alterations in non-neoplastic conditions such as aging and ulcerative colitis. We try to demonstrate how this epigenetic modification can be harnessed to address some of the key issues impeding the successful clinical management of colorectal cancer.

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