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Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Apr;97(4):827-34. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.049932. Epub 2013 Feb 20.

Homocysteine, cysteine, and risk of incident colorectal cancer in the Women's Health Initiative observational cohort.

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Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95817, USA.



Inflammation underlies the etiology of colorectal cancer (CRC). Hyperhomocysteinemia is associated with inflammation and may be a risk marker for CRC. Cysteine is a metabolic product of homocysteine and a precursor of the antioxidant glutathione. It is unknown whether cysteine is associated with CRC.


The objective was to assess the associations between homocysteine and cysteine and CRC incidence in postmenopausal women.


Associations between homocysteine and cysteine and incident CRC in the Women's Health Initiative observational cohort were assessed by using a nested case-control design. Cases and controls (n = 988/group) were matched for age (mean ± SD age: 67 ± 7 y), ethnicity (85.2% white, 8.9% black, 2.2% Hispanic/Latina, and 3.6% other), hysterectomy status, and date of blood draw. Homocysteine and cysteine were measured by HPLC with postcolumn fluorimetric detection.


Multivariate-adjusted ORs (95% CIs) for CRC were 1.46 (1.05, 2.04) for the highest quartile of homocysteine (>9.85 μmol/L) compared with the lowest quartile (≤6.74 μmol/L) (P = 0.02) and 0.57 (0.40, 0.82) for the highest quartile of cysteine (>309 μmol/L) compared with the lowest quartile (≤260 μmol/L) (P = 0.01). The association with homocysteine was significant for proximal colon tumors (P = 0.008) but not for distal or rectal tumors, whereas the association with cysteine was significant for rectal tumors (P = 0.02), borderline for proximal tumors (P = 0.06), and not significant for distal tumors. The associations with both homocysteine and cysteine were significant for localized tumors (P ≤ 0.01) but not for metastases.


High plasma homocysteine is associated with increased risk of CRC, whereas high cysteine is associated with decreased risk. This trial was registered at as NCT 00000611.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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