Cancer Genes with Preventative Food
Newswise, October 18,
2011--Colleen Spees has always been interested in the
role that diet played in disease, and set her sights on
a career where she would counsel patients and train
future dietitians. With multiple family members
diagnosed with various types of cancer, Colleen decided
to make the transition from clinical professional and
nutrition educator to research scientist.
“My sister was diagnosed with
breast cancer at age 42. I had already lost a brother at
age 15 to lymphosarcoma,” recalls Spees, now an
assistant professor of Medical Dietetics and Health
Sciences in the College of Medicine at The
Ohio State University, “Our family began to wonder
if there might be a genetic component that made us more
susceptible to getting cancer. This is when I began
delving into the research.”
Spees and her family underwent testing at the Clinical
Cancer Genetics Program at Ohio State, where it was
determined that several members were carriers of an
autosomal dominant mutation known as Li-Fraumeni
This is a particularly
severe cancer syndrome that exponentially
increases cancer risk. In normal cell cycle
regulation, a protein called p53 acts as a
tumor suppressor and is known as the
“guardian of the genome.” However, LFS
patients have a mutated or inactive p53
protein that can promote carcinogenesis.
“I am not a carrier of the mutation,
but as part of my coping mechanism with this family
crisis, I immediately began an extensive search for
clinical trials, current research, and evidenced-based
recommendations to share with my LFS affected family
members. Finding very little in the way of research, I
now had additional motivation to couple my expertise in
nutrition with cancer genomics” says Spees.
In 2009, Spees was awarded a TL1 Trainee
Award by Ohio
State’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS)that
give recipients the opportunity to gain experience and
training while working with an experienced mentor. Spees,
mentored by Drs. Steven Clinton and Kay Wolf, began
studying p53 mutations that are believed to be
correlated with a poorer prognosis in men with prostate
In collaboration with the Harvard
School of Public Health, the study is using tissue
samples and records from a prospective cohort of men in
the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS).
This study will be the
largest ever of its kind and the first to
assess the relationship with dietary
patterns to the p53 dysregulation in any
human cancer. Spees hopes to determine if
specific dietary factors or patterns have an
impact on decreased severity or progression
of prostate cancer.
Research continues to support positive
health interactions between vitamins, minerals, and
phytochemicals common in fruits and vegetables that can
help prevent or fight cancer. Spees’ mentor, Dr.
Clinton, and his collaborators, are leading the charge
to combat chronic disease through nutrition by
developing and testing “superfoods” such as tomato soy
juice, soy almond bread, and black raspberry products.
Spees encourages the dietary
recommendations set forth by the AICR
(American Institute of Cancer Research). These
guidelines align closely with The New American Plate
recommendations that "at least 2/3 of your plate should
be filled with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and
beans." Specific to cancer, the AICR recommends intake
of the following evidence-based cancer-fighting foods:
• Beans (legumes such as lentils and peas that have
healthy doses of fiber) have been shown to inhibit
cancer cell growth and slow tumor progression.
• Berries contain great sources of vitamin C and fiber
that appear to prevent certain cancers and slow cancer
cell growth and proliferation.
• Cruciferous Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower,
cabbage, brussel sprouts, bok choy, and kale) are
non-starchy vegetables that have proven protective
• Dark Green Leafy Vegetables (spinach, kale, lettuce,
greens, chicory, and swiss chard) are great sources of
folate, fiber, and phytochemicals that protect cells
• Flaxseed (flaxseed flour, meal, oil, and ground
flaxseeds) contain omega-3 fatty acid and phytoestrogens
that, in early studies, inhibit cancer growth.
• Garlic (as well as onions, scallions, leeks, and
chives) seems to protect against certain cancers and
slow or stop the growth of others when part of a mostly
• Grapes and Grape Juice contain resveratrol, a
phytochemical found in the skin of red and purple grapes
that has shown promise in preventing and slowing tumor
• Green Tea contains compounds that prevent cell damage.
In other studies, green tea has been effective in
slowing down or completely preventing tumor
• Soy (tofu, soymilk, soybeans, soynuts, miso, tempeh,
soy burgers, and soynut butter) contain isoflavones and
other phytochemicals that have been shown to inhibit
cancer growth and may be protective if consumed during
• Tomatoes appear to protect against some cancers by
preventing cellular damage.
• Whole Grains (brown rice, whole wheat, whole grains,
oatmeal, popcorn, wild rice, tortilla, kasha, and
tabouleh) are rich in fiber and hundreds of other
anti-cancer and protective phytochemicals.