Progress in development of a genetic model for colorectal tumorigenesis and human chemoprevention research may allow the mechanism-based identification of targets and chemopreventive agents that will protect against colorectal cancer. For example, numerous mutagenic events can occur throughout colorectal carcinogenesis, including loss of heterozygosity in tumor suppressor genes such as APC, MCC, DCC, and p53, as well as in oncogenes such as K-ras. Chemopreventive agents that inhibit mutagenic activity such as N-acetyl-l-cysteine, oltipraz, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may protect against these mutations. Also, agents such as perillyl alcohol and lovastatin that interfere with protein isoprenylation and, hence, inhibit oncogene activation may protect against aberrant K-ras expression. Hyperproliferation in normal mucosa, leading to growth and progression of neoplasia, are also aspects of colorectal carcinogenesis that can be controlled by chemopreventive agents. Calcium is a chemopreventive agent for which there is both clinical and experimental evidence of inhibition of cell proliferation in colon mucosa. Other examples of antiproliferative agents with potential chemopreventive efficacy in colon are 2-difluoromethylornithine, dehydroepiandrosterone, and selenium. Differentiating agents such as retinoids and deltanoids also may slow proliferation and progression. Antioxidants have potential for interfering with both mutagenicity and proliferation (e.g., by preventing oxidative activation of carcinogens and scavenging activated oxygen species generated during inflammation). The same mechanistic principles apply to identification of dietary chemopreventive intervention for colorectal carcinogenesis. For example, lowering dietary fat and increasing dietary fiber lead to lower colorectal mucosal proliferation, and cruciferous vegetables contain agents such as indoles and dithiolthiones that have shown antimutagenic activity.

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