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Cruciferous Vegetables May Help Prevent Cancer, But Do They Fight Existing Cancer?

Cruciferous Vegetables May Help Prevent Cancer, But Do They Fight Existing Cancer?

Straight Talk about Mesothelioma, a blog series created by Michael T. Milano, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncology specialist, as a resource for mesothelioma patients and their loved ones.


Cruciferous vegetables have generated interest in the medical world for some time, given their numerous antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Many researchers believe that a diet high in cruciferous vegetables can help stave off cancer. This has left patients wondering: Could they be effective in fighting existing cancer? Here’s what we know about the vegetables and their potential role in cancer treatment.

How Do Cruciferous Vegetables Affect Cancer?

The cruciferous family is a group of greens including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower. These “super” vegetables are unique for their powerful nutrients, including vitamins C, E, and K, minerals, and fiber. Together, these nutrients create a sort of anti-cancer cocktail.

Studies in animals find the biological compounds in cruciferous vegetables help protect cells from damage, inactivate carcinogens, and inhibit tumor formation, to name a few effects. In humans, however, researchers are still investigating possibilities.

For example, researchers have investigated potential benefits of cruciferous vegetables for 5 types of cancer:

  • Prostate: Few cohort studies have found links between vegetable intake and cancer risk, but some case control studies connect greater intake with decreased risk of prostate cancer.
  • Colorectal: Only 1 major study has found a reduced risk of colon (not rectal) cancer from consuming more cruciferous vegetables, and only in women.
  • Lung cancer: Most studies report weak correlations, but a S. analysis found reduced lung cancer risk in women who consumed more than 5 weekly servings of the vegetables.
  • Breast cancer: For breast cancer, evidence is mixed: 1 case-control study found a lower risk in women eating greater amounts of cruciferous vegetables, but others found no or little association.
  • Mesothelioma: A rare cancer caused exclusively by asbestos, mesothelioma is under-researched. However, a 2017 study found that sulforaphane, a component in cruciferous vegetables, can enhance the effects of a chemotherapy drug used in mesothelioma treatment.

What Does This Mean for Cancer Patients?

In short, there is no concrete link between cruciferous vegetables and cancer risk or impact on cancer therapy. Higher consumption of vegetables may protect against any number of diseases, but there are too many variables to consider. For example, dietary studies produce inaccurate results when study participants cannot remember their exact intake. Also, people who eat cruciferous vegetables may be likely to engage in other healthy behaviors that reduce cancer risk. Genetics and the way people metabolize the vegetables’ compounds come into play, too.

Ultimately, it’s important to note 2 things. First, cruciferous vegetables are not the only important food group; optimal health relies on a variety of vegetables and a well-balanced diet in general. Second – even for mesothelioma patients, who may benefit from cruciferous vegetables in treatment – diet is not the only factor. Cancer can develop for reasons diet can’t control, including asbestos exposure. Nonetheless, cruciferous vegetables and other superfoods can go a long way in supporting overall health and comfort throughout treatment.

Dr. Milano is a sponsored contributor to Mesothelioma Help Now.