Dietary calcium may inhibit colonic carcinogenesis promoted by high fat, phosphate, and low fibre diets. In persons at risk for colon cancer oral calcium supplements significantly suppress increased rectal epithelial proliferation. This was studied in a cohort of 35 volunteers: 26 first degree relatives of colorectal cancer patients and nine who had had colonic adenomas (mean age 51.6 years, 17 (49%) men, all negative for large bowel neoplasia). 1.25-1.5 g elemental calcium was given in divided daily doses for three months. Rectal pinch biopsies were taken without bowel preparation, before and mean 8.4 weeks during and 7.2 weeks after treatment and incubated with tritiated thymidine. The mean number of labelled cells, as a ratio of the total number of crypt cells (labelling index-LI), and their crypt position, were determined. The mean number of labelled cells decreased during treatment by 29%, especially in the basal three-fifths of crypts. There was also a significant 10% increase in mean number of crypt cells during treatment. [Mean LI decreased by 36% (p less than 0.001) during calcium treatment and almost returned to basal values after cessation.] If a raised LI is a marker of potential malignancy and a randomised clinical trial confirms that calcium suppresses it, dietary intervention studies in high risk persons are indicated.
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