Since its discovery in 1983, the epigenetics of human cancer has been in the shadows of human cancer genetics. But this area has become increasingly visible with a growing understanding of specific epigenetic mechanisms and their role in cancer, including hypomethylation, hypermethylation, loss of imprinting and chromatin modification. This timeline traces the field from its conception to the present day. It also addresses the genetic basis of epigenetic changes — an emerging area that promises to unite cancer genetics and epigenetics, and might serve as a model for understanding the epigenetic basis of human disease more generally.
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We thank E. Fearon, B. Vogelstein, R. Ohlsson and G. Klein for reading the manuscript. This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. We apologize in advance for any errors of omission or commission.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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