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World J Gastroenterol. Jan 21, 2009; 15(3): 257-263
Published online Jan 21, 2009. doi: 10.3748/wjg.15.257
Diet and epigenetics in colon cancer
Minna Nyström, Marja Mutanen
Minna Nyström, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Genetics, University of Helsinki, FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland
Marja Mutanen, Department of Applied Chemistry and Microbiology, Division of Nutrition, University of Helsinki, FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland
Author contributions: All of the authors contributed to the manuscript writing.
Correspondence to: Minna Nyström, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Genetics, Viikinkaari 5, University of Helsinki, FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland. minna.nystrom@helsinki.fi
Telephone: +358-9-19159073
Fax: +358-9-19159079
Received: September 26, 2008
Revised: November 1, 2008
Accepted: November 8, 2008
Published online: January 21, 2009

Over the past few years, evidence has accumulated indicating that apart from genetic alterations, epigenetic alterations, through e.g. aberrant promoter methylation, play a major role in the initiation and progression of colorectal cancer (CRC). Even in the hereditary colon cancer syndromes, in which the susceptibility is inherited dominantly, cancer develops only as the result of the progressive accumulation of genetic and epigenetic alterations. Diet can both prevent and induce colon carcinogenesis, for instance, through epigenetic changes, which regulate the homeostasis of the intestinal mucosa. Food-derived compounds are constantly present in the intestine and may shift cellular balance toward harmful outcomes, such as increased susceptibility to mutations. There is strong evidence that a major component of cancer risk may involve epigenetic changes in normal cells that increase the probability of cancer after genetic mutation. The recognition of epigenetic changes as a driving force in colorectal neoplasia would open new areas of research in disease epidemiology, risk assessment, and treatment, especially in mutation carriers who already have an inherited predisposition to cancer.

Keywords: Colon cancer, Diet, DNA methylation, Epigenetics, Nutrition