There is finally scientific confirmation of what epidemiologists have been telling the public for years: Eating a diet high in fats and sugars increases one’s risk for developing colon cancer. Researchers at Temple University announced yesterday that the results of their study, titled “Epigenetic Differences in Normal Colon Mucosa of Cancer Patients Suggest Altered Dietary Metabolic Pathways,” had been published in the March issue of the American Association for Cancer Research journal, Cancer Prevention Research. The study is topical to the alarming trend of research linking diet to cancer development. 

The researchers compared DNA methylation patterns in normal colon mucosa between patients with colon cancer and patients without cancer. Methylation is a type of normal gene modification that acts as on on/off switch for many genes; in cancer, genes can be aberrantly expressed through changes in methylation patterns. The researchers in this study identified significant differences in methylation patterns between the two groups at 114 to 874 genes. The results showed that the majority of the altered genes belonged to pathways involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, and amino acids.

Likely the most important finding of the study is that, when the researchers compared the two groups in terms of expression levels for genes in the insulin signaling pathway, they found that the normal mucosa from cancer patients expressed significantly higher levels of insulin, but lower levels of glycolytic enzymes and other regulators that control glucose and lipid metabolism. Based on these data, the researchers concluded that the colon mucosa from cancer patients, although morphologically normal, was metabolizing dietary components differently than control tissue, and that these differences may become a diagnostic and/or prognostic tool for colon cancer.  

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