Cancer, the leading cause of death worldwide, caused 8.2 million deaths in 2012. With 575,000 deaths attributable to cancer in 2010 in the United States, cancer-related deaths in the US are second only to those caused by heart disease, which caused 594,000. How can we end cancer? First and foremost, focus on prevention—the most viable option as a cure.
Historically, cancer has been perceived as a disease in which our genetic makeup dictates our likelihood of developing cancer. Presently, it has become broadly recognized that the initiation and progression of cancer is an intricate web of both genetic makeup and epigenetic events that alter our gene expression. Many studies have proven that epigenetic alterations are key components of the initiation and progression of cancer. These epigenetic processes—including DNA methylation, histone modification, and microRNA expression—are potentially reversible.
CpG island hypermethylation and down-regulation, histon acetylation and the resulting up-regulation of genes are common for many genes involved in a broad range of functions that are deregulated in cancer.
Dietary compounds have been shown to elicit epigenetic changes in cancer cells. To fully understand how we can modulate cancer prevention through lifestyle, research must focus on how diet and bioactive food components specifically impact epigenetic processes. Antioxidants such as carotenoids and fiber found in many vegetables and fruit offer a variety of anti-cancer benefits. Increased dietary folate, a soluble form of B6 vitamin, consumption has been linked to a decrease in colorectal cancer through its affect on DNA methylation. Dietary phytochemicals, that act as anti-cancer agents (including polyphenols, genistein, sulforaphane, resveratrol, and curcumin) have been shown to act through epigenetic mechanisms.
Cancer prevention is the best way to ultimately cure the disease. To work towards cancer prevention, we must further explore how dietary modifications may achieve epigenetic reprogramming, resulting in the maintenance of normal gene expression and reversal of tumor progression. (Scizzle, FEBRUARY 4, 2014 • KELLY JAMIESON THOMAS)