Cancer causes considerable morbidity and mortality across the world. Socioeconomic, environmental, and lifestyle factors contribute to the increasing cancer prevalence, bespeaking a need for effective prevention and treatment strategies. Phytochemicals like plant polyphenols are generally considered to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, and immunomodulatory effects, which explain their promotion for human health. The past several decades have contributed to a growing evidence base in the literature that demonstrate ability of polyphenols to modulate multiple targets of carcinogenesis linking models of cancer characteristics (i.e., hallmarks and nutraceutical-based targeting of cancer) via direct or indirect interaction or modulation of cellular and molecular targets. This evidence is particularly relevant for the lignans, an ubiquitous, important class of dietary polyphenols present in high levels in food sources such as flaxseed. Literature evidence on lignans suggests potential benefit in cancer prevention and treatment. This review summarizes the relevant chemical and pharmacokinetic properties of dietary polyphenols and specifically focuses on the biological targets of flaxseed lignans. The consolidation of the considerable body of data on the diverse targets of the lignans will aid continued research into their potential for use in combination with other cancer chemotherapies, utilizing flaxseed lignan-enriched natural products.
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