DNA methylation modifies the association between obesity and survival after breast cancer diagnosis

Lauren E. McCullough, Jia Chen, Yoon Hee Cho, Nikhil K. Khankari, Patrick T. Bradshaw, Alexandra J. White, Gail Garbowski, Susan L. Teitelbaum, Mary Beth Terry, Alfred I. Neugut, Hanina Hibshoosh, Regina M. Santella, Marilie D. Gammon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Mechanisms underlying the poor breast cancer prognosis among obese women are unresolved. DNA methylation levels are linked to obesity and to breast cancer survival. We hypothesized that obesity may work in conjunction with the epigenome to alter prognosis. Using a population-based sample of women diagnosed with first primary breast cancer, we examined modification of the obesity-mortality association by DNA methylation. In-person interviews were conducted approximately 3 months after diagnosis. Weight and height were assessed [to estimate body mass index (BMI)], and blood samples collected. Promoter methylation of 13 breast cancer-related genes was assessed in archived tumor by methylation-specific PCR and Methyl Light. Global methylation in white blood cell DNA was assessed by analysis of long interspersed elements-1 (LINE-1) and with the luminometric methylation assay (LUMA). Vital status among 1308 patients (with any methylation biomarker and complete BMI assessment) was determined after approximately 15 years of follow-up (N = 194/441 deaths due to breast cancer-specific/all-cause mortality). We used Cox proportional hazards regression to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95 % confidence intervals (CIs) using two-sided p values of 0.05. Breast cancer-specific mortality was higher among obese (BMI ≥ 30) patients with promoter methylation in APC (HR = 2.47; 95 % CI = 1.43–4.27) and TWIST1 (HR = 4.25; 95 % CI = 1.43–12.70) in breast cancer tissue. Estimates were similar, but less pronounced, for all-cause mortality. Increased all-cause (HR = 1.81; 95 % CI = 1.19–2.74) and breast cancer-specific (HR = 2.61; 95 % CI = 1.45–4.69) mortality was observed among obese patients with the lowest LUMA levels. The poor breast cancer prognosis associated with obesity may depend on methylation profiles, which warrants further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-194
Number of pages12
JournalBreast Cancer Research and Treatment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016


  • Body mass index
  • Breast cancer
  • Epigenetics
  • Methylation
  • Survival


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