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Ohio Researcher Will Examine Role of Diet in Li-Fraumeni Syndrome


Li-Fraumeni Syndrome is a rare disorder that greatly increases the risk of developing several types of cancer, including breast cancer, a type of bone cancer known as osteosarcoma, and cancers of the soft tissues. Colleen Spees, an assistant professor of Medical Dietetics and Health Sciences at The Ohio State University, has many family members diagnosed with the condition and has taken an interest in learning how diet and proper nutrition may help reduce the genetic risk of cancer.

There are two genes that are associated with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (LFS), notes the National Institutes of Health. More than half of all families with the condition have inherited mutations in the TP53 gene, which is a tumor suppression gene that normally helps to control growth and division of cells. A mutation in this gene can allow cells to divide uncontrollably and form tumors.

A few families have a less common genetic mutation in the CHEK2 gene. Like TP53, this gene also controls tumor suppression but researchers are less certain of its exact role in LFS.

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Dr. Spees does not carry a genetic mutation for LFS herself, but several family members are carriers. Her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at 42 and she lost a brother to lymphosarcoma at the age of 15. Because of this, she began an en extensive study on current research, clinical trials, and evidenced-based recommendations on the condition and found very little.

In collaboration with the Harvard School of Public Health, Spees is conducting a study using records of men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS). Her primary goal is to assess the potential relationship between nutrition, TP53 mutations, and prostate cancer in men as other research studies have found positive results from maintaining a healthy diet despite having “poor genes.”

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She notes that vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals from “superfoods” such as fruits, vegetables, and soy may help prevent or fight cancer and that all people should follow the guidelines set forth by the American Institute of Cancer Research and fill “at least 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans.” She also offers more specific advice on foods to include in a cancer-fighting diet:

  • 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 anti-cancer properties
  • Dark Green Leafy Vegetables (spinach, kale, lettuce, greens, chicory, and swiss chard) are great sources of folate, fiber, and phytochemicals that protect cells from damage
  • 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 plant-based diet.
  • 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 progression.
  • Green Tea contains compounds that prevent cell damage. In other studies, green tea has been effective in slowing down or completely preventing tumor development.
  • 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 adolescence.
  • 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.

Source: The Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science