Poor diet is associated with 80% of colorectal cancer cases, but the exact pathways by which diet leads to cancer are not known.

In the July 6 issue of Stem Cell Reports, the team showed in pre-clinical models that cancer stem cell growth in the colon was enhanced by a high-fat, Western diet. Cancer stem cells are a subset of resilient, aggressive malignant cells that are believed to be partially responsible for spread and recurrence of cancer.

Furthermore, when the researchers blocked the JAK2-STAT3 cellular signaling pathway, a widely studied pathway known to promote tumor growth, the spike in cancer stem cell growth caused by the high-fat diet declined.

This study provides more insight into how the JAK2-STAT3 pathway is linked to diet-related cancer. Pinpointing the exact mechanism can help researchers develop therapeutics to counteract the negative effects of a Western diet on colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States with more than 130,000 cases reported annually. The disease arises as a result of a combination of several genetic, epigenetic and environmental causes, such as diet.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: This is important research, but I have questions regarding the specifics of the diet. What kind of fats were eaten? Saturated fat, unsaturated fat, trans fat, or a combination of all three? Most of these studies do not isolate a specific type of fat, meaning that results can be misleading. Based on previous research, it is likely that diets with a high percentage of healthy fat included have a LOWER rate of colorectal cancer, while diets high in unhealthy fats such as trans fats have a higher rate of colorectal cancer. In addition, these studies do not account for confounding dietary variables such as consumption of excessive sugars and carbohydrates. Additional research is definitely needed.