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Broccoli sprout extract helps fight head and neck cancer by activating 'detoxification' gene, study finds

Cancer prevention

(NaturalNews) Broccoli has been touted a superfood for quite a while. It is loaded with essential nutrients, offering a broad range of health benefits. Now, a recently published study has found that broccoli sprout extract might protect against oral cancer recurrence.

The study, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, found that potent doses of broccoli sprout extract activate a gene that promotes detoxification of cancer-causing agents to prevent cancer recurrence in survivors of head and neck cancer.

With this study, the researchers, led by Dr. Julie Bauman, M.D., M.P.H., co-director of the UPMC Head and Neck Cancer Center of Excellence, confirmed preliminary results presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting last year.

Deadly consequences of recurring oral cancers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 30,000 new cases of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx are diagnosed each year in the United States. More than 8,000 deaths are caused by the same disease.

This newly found protective effect of broccoli extract is paramount as experts claim that the 5-year survival rate for these cancers is only about 50 percent. Current conventional treatments for oral cancers include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, which can be very costly and disfiguring.

"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 lead author Julie Bauman.

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

Broccoli, a preventative drug

The greatest risk factors for neck and head cancer are the repeated exposure to carcinogens found in cigarette, cigar or pipe smoke, the use of smokeless tobacco, and excessive use of alcohol.

Previous research has shown that high concentrations of sulforaphane, found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and garden cress, can protect people against these external carcinogens.

"Head and neck cancers account for approximately 3 percent of all cancers in the U.S., but that burden is far greater in many developing countries," said Dr. 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."

Promising results

Dr. Bauman and her team first used sulforaphane extracts on head and neck cancer cells in the laboratory, using normal cells as a control group. They found that sulforaphane increased the levels of a protein known to turn on genes that promote detoxification pathways in the body and protect cells from cancer.

To test their newly found protective effect, they set up a small preclinical trial, which involved ten healthy volunteers. They were asked to drink or swish fruit juice mixed with broccoli sprout extract for several days.

The extract was well tolerated by all participants. The lining of their mouths showed that the same protective genetic pathways were activated as in the laboratory cell tests. Meaning, the sulforaphane was being absorbed and transported to the at-risk tissue.

Furthermore, Dr. Bauman collaborated with senior author Daniel E. Johnson, Ph.D., professor of medicine at Pitt and a senior scientist in the UPCI Head and Neck Cancer Program, to study the potency of sulforaphane extract in mice predisposed to head and neck cancer.

When the extract was tested on these mice, fewer tumors were observed in the mice who received the sulforaphane extract compared to the mice who did not get any extract at all.

Given the promising results of the mouse, human and lab studies, Dr. Bauman has now initiated a larger clinical trial with volunteers previously cured of head or neck cancer.

Sources for this article include:

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