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Adv Exp Med Biol. 1999;472:29-42.

Nutritional factors in human cancers.

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Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


A variety of external factors interacting with genetic susceptibility influence the carcinogenesis process. External factors including oxidative compounds, electrophilic agents, and chronic infections may enhance genetic damage. In addition, various hormonal factors which influence growth and differentiation are critically important in the carcinogenic process. Diet and nutrition can influence these processes directly in the gastrointestinal tract by providing bioactive compounds to specific tissues via the circulatory system, or by modulating hormone levels. Differences in certain dietary patterns among populations explain a substantial proportion of cancers of the colon, prostate and breast. These malignancies are largely influenced by a combination of factors related to diet and nutrition. Their causes are multifactorial and complex, but a major influence is the widespread availability of energy-dense, highly processed and refined foods that are also deplete in fiber. These dietary patterns in combination with physical inactivity contribute to obesity and metabolic consequences such as increased levels of IGF-1, insulin, estrogen, and possibly testosterone. These hormones tend to promote cellular growth. For prostate cancer, epidemiologic studies consistently show a positive association with high consumption of milk, dairy products, and meats. These dietary factors tend to decrease 1.25(OH)2 vitamin D, a cell differentiator, and low levels of this hormone may enhance prostate carcinogenesis. While the nutritional modulation of growth-enhancing and differentiating hormones is likely to contribute to the high prevalence of breast, colorectal, prostate, and several other cancers in the Western world, these cancers are relatively rare in less economically developed countries, where malignancies of the upper gastrointestinal tract are quite common. The major causes of upper gastrointestinal tract cancers are likely related to various food practices or preservation methods other than refrigeration, which increase mucosal exposure to irritants or carcinogens.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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