Broccoli Extract May Prevent Head and Neck Cancer’s Return



Potent doses of broccoli sprout extract activate a detoxification gene and may help prevent cancer recurrence in head and neck cancer survivors, according to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

“With head and neck cancer, we often clear patients of cancer only to see it come back with deadly consequences a few years later,” said Julie Bauman, MD, MPH, co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Head and Neck Cancer Center of Excellence and lead author of the study.

“Unfortunately, previous efforts to develop a preventative drug to reduce this risk have been inefficient, intolerable in patients, and expensive,” said Bauman. “That led us to green chemoprevention, the cost-effective development of treatments based upon whole plants or their extracts.”

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and garden cress have a high concentration of the naturally occurring molecular compound sulforaphane, which previously has been shown to protect people against environmental carcinogens.

The researchers treated human head and neck cancer cells in the lab with varying doses of sulforaphane and a control and compared them to normal, healthy cells that line the throat and mouth.

The sulforaphane induced both types of cells to increase their levels of a protein that turns on genes that promote the detoxification of carcinogens and protect cells from cancer.

In a small preclinical trial, 10 healthy volunteers drank or swished fruit juice mixed with broccoli sprout extract for several days. The volunteers had no significant problems tolerating the extract.

Also, the lining of their mouths showed that the same protective genetic pathway activated in the lab cell tests was activated in their mouths, indicating the sulforaphane was absorbed and directed to at-risk tissue.

The researchers administered the extract in mice predisposed to head and neck cancer as well. The mice that received the sulforaphane developed far fewer tumors than the mice that did not receive it.

The results of these studies have led the researchers to start a larger clinical trial in volunteers previously cured of head and neck cancer. These participants will take capsules of broccoli seed powder, which is more convenient to take regularly than extract mixed with juice.

“Head and neck cancers account for approximately 3% of all cancers in the United States, but that burden is far greater in many developing countries,” said Bauman.

“A preventative drug created from whole plants or their extracts may ease the costs of production and distribution and ultimately have a huge positive impact on mortality and quality of life in people around the world,” Bauman said.

The study, “Prevention of Carcinogen-Induced Oral Cancer by Sulforaphane,” was published by Cancer Prevention Research. It was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Foundation.

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