A recent study in mice suggests that a compound derived from broccoli keeps stem cells from generating new tumors.
The compound, known as sulphoraphane, "has been studied previously for its effects on cancer, but this study shows that its benefit is in inhibiting the breast cancer stem cells," study co-author Duxin Sun, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy said.
Sulphoraphane is believed to ‘block’ the conversion of pro-carcinogen chemicals into carcinogens, enhance their breakdown in the body, and also ‘suppress’ the growth of cancerous cells. Several cancers, including breast cancer, are believed to be initiated by the growth of a group of cancer stem cells that continuously renew and change into different cell types. These cancer stem cells are believed to be involved in cancer relapse and resistance to treatment.
The researchers administered sulphoraphane to mice with breast cancer and monitored the number of cancer stem cells in their tumors. They found that the treated mice had fewer of the cells and that they couldn't generate new tumors. Tests on human breast cancer cells in the laboratory resulted in similar decreases in cancer stem cells, they reported.
It's too soon to know if the compound would work in people. Further testing of the anti-cancer properties of sulphoraphane and its potential to target the cancer stem cell population is needed.
But this should not stop us from enjoying broccoli as part of the healthy servings of vegetables and fruits each day in our overall cancer prevention strategy.
Y. Li, T. Zhang, H. Korkaya, S. Liu, H. F. Lee, B. Newman, Y. Yu, S. G. Clouthier, S. J. Schwartz, M. S. Wicha, D. Sun. Sulforaphane, a Dietary Component of Broccoli/Broccoli Sprouts, Inhibits Breast Cancer Stem Cells. Clin Cancer Res May 1, 2010 16:2580-2590