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Broccoli sprouts for oral cancer


Broccoli sprouts in hands

Credit: iStock

According to the World Health Organisation oral cancer is the 11th most common cancer. In Australia around 3,000 cases are diagnosed each year. Unfortunately, it has a high mortality rate because it usually does not involve any symptoms and so is not diagnosed until a late stage. Often oral cancer is not diagnosed until it has metastasised to the lymph nodes in the neck and once it has spread the prognosis is significantly worse. Treatment for oral cancer includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy but all of these can be disfiguring and costly so alternatives are being sought. That is why in a new study researchers trialled broccoli sprouts.

The leading risk factor for oral cancer is exposure to environmental toxins via cigarette (or cigar) smoking and alcohol. We know that broccoli, broccoli sprouts and other members of the cruciferous vegetable family contain high levels of a substance called sulphorophane that has been shown to protect against environmental carcinogens. So researchers decided to test it against oral cancer.

We know that broccoli, broccoli sprouts...contain high levels of a substance called sulphorophane that has been shown to protect against environmental carcinogens. So researchers decided to test it against oral cancer.

To do this they first treated human head and neck cancer cells with different doses of sulphorophane and compared them with healthy head and neck cells. They found that sulphorphane caused both cancerous and normal cells to increase levels of a protein that switches on genes that protect cells from cancer and promotes detoxification of carcinogens.

In a second trial healthy subjects swished around their mouth a juice that contained broccoli sprout extract. The cells from the lining of the mouth showed the same protective genetic mechanisms as in the first experiment indicating that the sulphorophane was being absorbed and was impacting the tissue at risk in oral cancer.

Then the researchers gave broccoli sprout extract to mice that were disposed to head and neck cancer. The mice given the extract developed fewer tumours than the mice that were not.

A larger clinical trial of human previously cured of head and neck cancer being given capsules with broccoli seed powder is now under way. This is certainly lot a license for people to smoke or abuse alcohol and think that broccoli sprouts give them a free ticket to do so. It does however, point in the direction of a potent but well tolerated treatment option.



 

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.