Polyamines have important roles in determining the structure, function, and proliferative capacity of both normal and neoplastic gastrointestinal tissues. The numerous potential clinical uses of polyamines, their biosynthetic enzymes and enzyme inhibitors, as tumor markers and antitumor agents have been demonstrated in experimental and clinical settings. Gastrointestinal cancers account for a large percentage of cancer deaths in the United States. Colorectal cancer alone is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States (85). With few exceptions, the studies summarized in this review are reports of observations. Our understanding of the underlying mechanisms causing these phenomena is fragmentary. The gastrointestinal system has unusual abilities to regenerate and an unusually high metabolic rate. The normal process of regeneration and adaptation may provide an excellent foundation upon which to build our understanding of malignant neoplastic processes in these tissues. Further investigation into the nature of the relationship between polyamines and gastrointestinal and hepatocellular neoplasia may provide tools that are useful in combating these diseases.
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