This systematic literature search revealed that major requirements to develop clinically relevant diagnostic CRC DNA methylation markers are often lacking. To avoid the resulting research waste, clinical needs, intended biomarker use, and independent validation should be better considered before study design. In addition, improved reporting quality would facilitate meta-analysis, thereby increasing the level of evidence and enabling clinical translation.
A systematic literature search identified 331 diagnostic DNA methylation marker studies published before November 2020 in PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar. For 136 bodily fluid studies, extended data extraction was performed. STARD criteria and level of evidence were registered to assess reporting quality and strength for clinical translation.
Our systematic literature search revealed multiple issues that hamper the development of DNA methylation biomarkers for CRC diagnosis, including methodological and technical heterogeneity and lack of validation or clinical translation. For example, clinical translation and independent validation were limited, with 100 of 434 markers (23%) studied in bodily fluids, 3 of 434 markers (0.7%) translated into clinical tests, and independent validation for 92 of 411 tissue markers (22%) and 59 of 100 bodily fluids markers (59%).
To improve colorectal cancer (CRC) survival and lower incidence rates, colonoscopy and/or fecal immunochemical test screening are widely implemented. Although candidate DNA methylation biomarkers have been published to improve or complement the fecal immunochemical test, clinical translation is limited. We describe technical and methodological problems encountered after a systematic literature search and provide recommendations to increase (clinical) value and decrease research waste in biomarker research. In addition, we present current evidence for diagnostic CRC DNA methylation biomarkers.