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Broccoli, Watercress Compound May Fight Breast Cancer

Broccoli compound may fight breast cancer

Women who are concerned about breast cancer--and who isn't?--may want to include a few servings of broccoli, watercress, and various other vegetables in the same family on their weekly menu. A new study shows that compounds found in broccoli, watercress, and other cruciferous vegetables can slow the progress of mammary carcinoma in mice, which is similar to breast cancer progression in people.

Breast cancer fighting ingredient in certain vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables have been studied extensively for their ability to help fight cancer, since they possess certain compounds that have demonstrated anticancer abilities, such as sulfurophane and phenethyl isothiocyanate. The current study focused on phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), which has proved itself to be capable of inducing suicide among breast cancer cells.

To evaluate the effect of phenethyl isothiocyanate on breast cancer cells, the research team fed 33 mice a control diet and 35 mice a diet supplemented with PEITC for 29 weeks. At the end of the study, the researchers examined tissue samples taken from the mice.

The mice who received phenethyl isothiocyanate showed a 53.13% reduction in incidence of mammary tumors and a 56.25% reduction in microscopic mammary cancer lesions larger than 2 mm. The authors credited the improvement with reduced cellular proliferation, an increase in cell suicide, and other biochemical changes.

This is not the first time phenethyl isothiocyanate has demonstrated a positive effect in breast cancer. In a July 2012 study published in BMC Medicine the researchers looked at the effect of phenethyl isothiocyanate on HER2 positive breast cancer cells. People with HER2-positive breast cancer test typically test positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor s (HER2), which promotes the growth of cancer cells.

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In about 20% of breast cancers, the cancer cells produce an excessive amount of HER2 because of a gene mutation. Use of various concentration of phenethyl isothiocyanate on breast cancer cells transfected with HER2 revealed that PEITC significantly decreased expression of HER2 and survival of the cells.

In addition, cruciferous vegetables have been shown to possess anticancer properties beyond phenethyl isothiocyanate. The phytonutrient indole-3-carbinol, which is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, has been shown to hinder the proliferation of certain breast cancer cells, among other anticancer activities. The authors of the University of California, Berkeley, study reported that indole-3-carbinol "inhibits proliferation of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells."

In yet another study, in which vegetable and fruit intake for nearly 52,000 African American women was evaluated, the authors found evidence that overall intake of cruciferous vegetables in particular showed evidence of a reduced risk of breast cancer risk. In the Nurses' Health Study, postmenopausal women who consumed the most fruits and vegetables had a reduced risk of estrogen-receptor breast cancer.

The effort to prevent and treat breast cancer is a challenge, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and watercress have demonstrated an ability to help fight the battle, given the variety of phytonutrients found in these foods. In addition to broccoli and watercress, some other cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts,bok choy, radishes, and Swiss chard.

Boggs DA et al. Fruit and vegetable intake in relation to risk of breast cancer in the Black Women's Health Study. American Journal of Epidemiology 2010 Dec 1; 172(1): 1268-79
Gupta P, Srivastava SK. Anti-tumor activity of phenethyl isothiocyanate in HER2 positive breast cancer models. BMC Medicine 2012 Jul 24; 10(1): 80
Marconett CN et al. Indole-3-carbinol disrupts estrogen receptor-alpha dependent expression of insulin-like growth factor-1 receptor and insulin receptor substrate-1 and proliferation of human breast cancer cells. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology 2012 Jul 24
Singh SV et al. Biomarkers of phenethyl isothiocyanate-mediated mammary cancer chemoprevention in a clinically relevant mouse model. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2012 Aug 2

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