The use of synthetic, natural, or biological agents to minimize the occurrence of cancer in healthy individuals is defined as cancer chemoprevention. Chemopreventive agents inhibit the development of cancer either by impeding DNA damage, which leads to malignancy or by reversing or blocking the division of premalignant cells with DNA damage. The benefit of this approach has been demonstrated in clinical trials of breast, prostate, and colon cancer. The continuous increase in cancer cases, failure of conventional chemotherapies to control cancer, and excessive toxicity of chemotherapies clearly demand an alternative approach. The first trial to show benefit of chemoprevention was undertaken in breast cancer patients with the use of tamoxifen, which demonstrated a significant decrease in invasive breast cancer. The success of using chemopreventive agents for protecting the high risk populations from cancer indicates that the strategy is rational and promising. Dietary components such as capsaicin, cucurbitacin B, isoflavones, catechins, lycopenes, benzyl isothiocyanate, phenethyl isothiocyanate, and piperlongumine have demonstrated inhibitory effects on cancer cells indicating that they may serve as chemopreventive agents. In this review, we have addressed the mechanism of chemopreventive and anticancer effects of several natural agents.
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