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Smoking out the links between nutrition and oral cancer

Boston -- Every year, nearly 300,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with oral cancer. This type of cancer has the highest incidence in people who use tobacco, including cigarettes, but the means by which tobacco promotes the development of oral cancer is unknown. Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University are investigating whether nutritional factors may be involved. A causal link has not been established, but their results provide early insights into the complex relationships among oral cancer, smoking, and two groups of nutrients: folates and select antioxidants.

Folate levels are different in smokers and non-smokers, according to Joel Mason, MD, director of the USDA HNRCA's Vitamins and Carcinogenesis Laboratory and assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. Mason and colleagues, who reported their results in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed the diets and studied blood and cheek cells of 56 men and women between 30 and 80 years of age. Approximately half of these were chronic smokers, defined by a history of smoking at least 10 cigarettes daily for at least the past year.

"Regardless of dietary intake, smokers had lower levels of folate in both blood and cheek cells, compared with non-smokers," says Mason. These findings confirm those of previous studies. Also consistent with previous research results, cheek cells of smokers had significantly more genetic aberrations called micronuclei, which indicate increased risk of oral cancer.

Mason notes that these observations raise the question, "does cigarette smoke promote cancer by depleting cells of folate?" Folate is a B vitamin found in leafy green vegetables and fortified foods that not only helps create and preserve cells, but is also critical for synthesis of DNA; the latter serves as a universal set of blueprints for cells and which, if sufficiently al
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Contact: Siobhan Gallagher
siobhan.gallagher@tufts.edu
617-636-6586
Tufts University
8-Aug-2006


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