White Blood Cell BRCA1 Promoter Methylation Status and Ovarian Cancer Risk

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The role of normal tissue gene promoter methylation in cancer risk is poorly understood.


To assess associations between normal tissue BRCA1 methylation and ovarian cancer risk.


2 case–control (initial and validation) studies.


2 hospitals in Norway (patients) and a population-based study (control participants).


934 patients and 1698 control participants in the initial study; 607 patients and 1984 control participants in the validation study.


All patients had their blood sampled before chemotherapy. White blood cell (WBC) BRCA1 promoter methylation was determined by using methylation-specific quantitative polymerase chain reaction, and the percentage of methylation-positive samples was compared between population control participants and patients with ovarian cancer, including the subgroup with high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC).


In the initial study, BRCA1 methylation was more frequent in patients with ovarian cancer than control participants (6.4% vs. 4.2%; age-adjusted odds ratio [OR], 1.83 [95% CI, 1.27 to 2.63]). Elevated methylation, however, was restricted to patients with HGSOC (9.6%; OR, 2.91 [CI, 1.85 to 4.56]), in contrast to 5.1% and 4.0% of patients with nonserous and low-grade serous ovarian cancer (LGSOC), respectively. These findings were replicated in the validation study (methylation-positive status in 9.1% of patients with HGSOC vs. 4.3% of control participants—OR, 2.22 [CI 1.40 to 3.52]—4.1% of patients with nonserous ovarian cancer, and 2.7% of those with LGSOC). The results were not influenced by tumor burden, storage time, or WBC subfractions. In separate analyses of young women and newborns, BRCA1 methylation was detected in 4.1% (CI, 1.8% to 6.4%) and 7.0% (CI, 5.0% to 9.1%), respectively.


Patients with ovarian cancer were recruited at the time of diagnosis in a hospital setting.


Constitutively normal tissue BRCA1 promoter methylation is positively associated with risk for HGSOC.

Primary Funding Source:

Norwegian Cancer Society.

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