Can Broccoli Prevent The Return Of Cancer?

Broccoli is often the cruciferous outcast at dinner time. Many of us are guilty of pushing it around on the plate, hoping it would miraculously disappear! But it turns out that there are many things to love about broccoli. A good source of fiber and chock-a-block full of vitamins and minerals, this superhero of vegetables belonging to the cruciferous family may hold within it the power to strike at the very roots of cancer and prevent its recurrence.

In addition to a host of healthy vitamins and minerals, broccoli also contains a group of substances known as glucosinolates. During chewing and digestion, these glucosinolates break down to form biologically active compounds such as indoles and isothiocyanates. In animal studies, indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs like the bladder, colon, breast, lung, liver, and stomach by helping to make carcinogens inactive, protecting cells from DNA damage, and inducing cell death (apoptosis, where damaged, dying or abnormal cells are removed by the body). They also have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral effects and can inhibit tumor cell migration and tumor blood vessel formation. They can also lower the risk of certain kinds of cancer, such as prostate, lung, and breast cancers.1

The Root Of Cancer

“Relapse” is one of the most disheartening things someone who has fought and won over cancer could hear. Cancer is essentially a cell mutation that allows cells to multiply uncontrollably. When cells with this mutation are destroyed or removed either through chemotherapy or surgery, the patient is free of cancer. For a long time, biologists thought that relapse occurred because some cancer cells were genetically resistant – or had evolved to become resistant – to the drug used to treat them. But in 1994, John Dick, a researcher from the University of Toronto, discovered the presence of cancer stem cells in leukemia – cells that were capable of not just rapid growth but indefinite growth. These cells were thought to initiate cancer and cause its growth and relapse, by giving rise to new tumors through continuous self-renewal and differentiation.2 Since then, cancer stem cells have been discovered in many kinds of cancer. And this is where broccoli has a role to play. Studies indicate that sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate found in broccoli and broccoli sprouts, may target cancer stem cells in different types of cancer.3

Sulforaphane can protect against cancer through both “blocking” and “suppressing” effects. It blocks the formation of cancer cells by inhibiting enzymes that convert procarcinogens (precursors of carcinogens) into carcinogens (substances that cause cancer). It also helps produce enzymes that push out carcinogens. Sulforaphane also suppresses cancer cells by modulating diverse cellular activities to inhibit their growth.4


Broccoli can prevent the recurrence of certain cancers.

Pancreatic Cancer: Research has found that quercetin, a polyphenol and flavonoid found in broccoli, reduced the self-renewal of pancreatic cancer stem cells. Interestingly, the combination of quercetin and sulforaphane worked better together, making broccoli a potent anticarcinogen.5


Breast Cancer: Research shows that sulforaphane inhibits breast cancer stem cells and down-regulates their self-renewal pathway.6

Oral Cancer: Broccoli sprout extract has been found to activate a “detoxification” gene and may help prevent the recurrence of cancer in people who have survived head and neck cancer. Sulforaphane prompts both normal and cancer cells to increase their levels of a protein which activates certain genes that can detoxify carcinogens, like those found in tobacco.7


Get On Team Broccoli!

Broccoli shows a lot of promise in preventing the relapse of certain kinds of cancer, but researchers are yet to fix up a golden number or quantity that will be effective. But while research on the areas gets more extensive, you can get broccoli to work for you. The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion recommends that you have 1.5 to 2 cups of dark green vegetables in a week as part of a balanced diet. And given the many health benefits of broccoli, it’s a good idea to include it in there.8 If you’re put off by the bitterness of broccoli, try broccoli sprouts – not only are they sweet tasting, they also have between 30 to 50 times more sulforaphane than broccoli itself.9