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Folic acid is a water-soluble B vitamin essential in the human diet. It is an important cofactor in the synthesis of DNA and RNA of dividing cells, particularly during pregnancy and infancy when there is an increase in cell division and growth.
Folic acid is important to the field of oncology in two ways. First, prior to neoplasm formation, folic acid is important in the synthesis of DNA and RNA and the repair of damaged DNA. Second, after a tumor develops, a form of folic acid is used to counter the side effects of methotrexate and fluorouracil.
Since folic acid is a cofactor in DNA replication and biosynthesis of purines and also in DNA repair, there is an increasing amount of research (epidemiological, clinical, and experimental) that suggests a folic acid deficiency
Once a neoplasm forms, folic acid levels need to be decreased. In neoplasms, DNA replication and cell division are both occurring in an uncontrolled manner. Folate, which assists in this process, needs to be inhibited, causing an interruption in DNA synthesis and slowing the growth of the tumor. Chemotherapeutic agents called antimetabolites, or folic acid antagonists, such as methotrexate and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), inhibit the enzymatic pathways for biosynthesis of nucleic acids by substituting for folic acid and sabotaging the reaction. Unfortunately, drugs that inhibit the biosynthesis of cancer cells also inhibit the biosynthesis of normal cells, resulting in extremely toxic side effects. To counter the side effects, a drug called leucovorin (a form of folate also known as Wellcovorin, Citrovorum and folinic acid) opposes the toxic effects of methotrexate on normal tissue. Leucovorin also increases the anticancer effect of 5-FU.
Author Info: Sally C. McFarlane-Parrott, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Cancer, 2002This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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