Folic acid may be the new cancer prevention therapy

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According to a new study supplements of folic acid may help prevent cancer.

Italian researchers enrolled 43 patients with untreated laryngeal leucoplakia and treated them with folic acid (5mg three times a day) and evaluated the progression of leucoplakia every 30 days for six months.

Leucoplakia appears as white patches in the mucus membranes of the mouth or throat, and can contain precancerous cells.

The researchers found that over six months of treatment, 12 patients had complete resolution of their leucoplakia lesions; 19 patients had reduction of 50 percent or more in the size of their lesions and 12 patients had no response.

Folate levels in the blood increased and homocysteine levels decreased significantly.

Excess homocysteine is linked to chronic health problems, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

There were no moderate or severe adverse events reported.

Study leader Dr. Giovanni Almadori from Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Policlinico A. Gemelli in Rome says previous studies have shown that patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer or laryngeal leucoplakia have had lower than normal levels of folate in the blood.

Folate deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the United States; it is a naturally occurring B vitamin found abundantly in fresh vegetables and fruits

It is found in dietary supplements and fortified foods and is important to healthy life because it promotes DNA synthesis and DNA repair.

The researchers say the results suggest that folate is an effective chemopreventive drug with few adverse effects and alone or in combination with other chemopreventive drugs, folate could effectively reduce the risk of cancer progressing.

The team say that laryngeal leucoplakia often recurs in a more advanced form that has a greater chance of progressing to cancer.

They are planning a larger trial to evaluate the effectiveness of folic acid supplements as follow-up treatment after surgery to remove laryngeal leucoplakia in order to prevent the development of head and neck cancer.

The study is published in the July 15, 2006 issue of CANCER.

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