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Soy Component May Prevent, Treat Colon Cancer


Researchers have found agents in soy that have the ability to prevent and possibly treat colon cancer. These agents, called sphingadienes, may prove helpful in fighting the third most deadly form of cancer.

Colon cancer is a disease of the large intestine, and usually begins as small, noncancerous clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Eventually, some of these polyps become colon cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, there will be about 106,100 new cases of colon cancer in 2009, and about 49,920 deaths attributed to cases of colon and rectal cancers combined.

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Previous studies have shown that soy may possess properties that protect against cancer, including colon, prostate, and breast cancer. This benefit is usually associated with soy protein and soy isoflavones, including genistein. In this latest study, led by Julie Saba, MD, PhD, senior scientist and director of the Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Saba and her team made the groundbreaking discover that sphingadienes found in soy may underlie the health advantages provided by soy foods.

A fruit fly served as the launching point for this study, after Dr Saba and her team first identified sphingadienes in this organism. They soon discovered that high levels of sphingadienes caused mutant cells in the fly to die. The scientists then connected this finding with the knowledge that soy is a rich source of sphingadienes, and they believed they had found a natural way to help prevent colon cancer.

Dr. Saba notes that they are “encouraged to find a natural molecule that could be consumed through soy products as a strategy to help prevent colon cancer.” She also indicates that the findings of their study can help toward eventually developing new drug treatments for people who already have colon cancer. Further research is needed to find the best way to provide sphingadienes for individuals and to determine their toxicity when used for a prolonged time and with other agents. Dr. Saba has received two grants toward that end, and also hopes to determine whether sphingadienes can prevent other cancers as well.

Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland
National Cancer Institute