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Cruciferous Veggies May Ward Off Recurrence

A new study indicates Chinese breast cancer survivors who eat more cruciferous vegetables my have decreased recurrence and improved survival.

BY Kathy LaTour
PUBLISHED June 15, 2012

A new study indicates that Chinese breast cancer survivors who eat more cruciferous vegetables may have decreased recurrence of disease and improved survival rates.

The vegetables, which include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy and turnips, contain phytochemicals that appear to have a protective effect against some types of cancer. Cruciferous vegetables are so named because of their cross-like flowers. “Headless crucifers” include dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale and collard greens.

Xiao Ou Shu, MD, PhD, principal investigator of the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study, and Sarah Nechuta, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, investigated the role of cruciferous vegetables in a prospective study of 4,886 Chinese women diagnosed with stage 1 to stage 4 breast cancer between 2002 and 2006.

Nechuta, who delivered the study results at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in April, said at a press conference that after adjusting for demographics, clinical characteristics and lifestyle factors, the researchers found that cruciferous vegetable intake during the first 36 months after diagnosis was associated with a reduced risk for total mortality, breast cancer–specific mortality and disease recurrence.

The level of bioactive compounds proposed to play a role in the anticancer effects of cruciferous vegetables depends on the amount and type of cruciferous vegetables consumed, Nechuta said, adding that survival rates were influenced by vegetable consumption in a dose-response pattern—as women consumed more vegetables, their risk of death or cancer recurrence decreased.

Nechuta said the level of intake of cruciferous vegetables among Chinese women is much higher than that of U.S. women and those consumption habits need to be taken into consideration when generalizing the results to the U.S.

“These findings replicate research from a U.S. study of women with stage 1 to 3 breast cancer published last year,” says Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, professor and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “Population-based studies clearly show that consuming a primarily plant-based diet, high in cruciferous vegetables, is associated with improved outcomes for women with breast cancer.”

While the study results aren’t as definitive as they would be in prospective randomized trials, they indicate that a simple, natural lifestyle change may help and certainly can’t hurt.

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