This broccoli compound may treat prostate cancer

Sulforaphane, which is found in cruciferous vegetables, appears to affect a particular enzyme in prostate cancer cells. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Broccoli is frequently touted as a food that can help prevent cancer, but a compound found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables also may treat it.

Roderick H. Dashwood, a researcher at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology, has been studying whether a compound known as sulforaphane, which occurs naturally in broccoli, could be used to treat advanced prostate cancer.

In a paper published in the journal Oncogenesis, Dashwood and collaborators from Oregon State University detail how a particular enzyme in prostate cancer cells known as SUV39H1 is affected by exposure to sulforaphane.

“There is significant evidence that cruciferous vegetables can help prevent cancer,” Dashwood says. “This study, however, is one of the first to show that by altering SUV39H1 and histone methylation profiles, sulforaphane could be a new therapeutic agent for advanced prostate cancer.”

Histone methylation involves small chemical modifications to the proteins that interact with DNA, and influences how genes are expressed.


Prostate cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States, and is a leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide. While treatments such as surgical removal of the prostate, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and chemotherapy are initially effective in treating prostate cancer, the cancer frequently spreads to other sites. Once this occurs, survival rates decrease dramatically and treatment options are limited.

Dashwood says further work is needed to identify the particular subsets of advanced prostate cancers that would be susceptible to sulforaphane treatment. And more research needs to be done to verify the safety of the compound when used at higher doses.

A clinical trial is currently underway to test the effectiveness of sulforaphane-rich supplements in men with high risk for prostate cancer. Early indications are that the compound is safe. Results from this trial may help demonstrate the safety of higher-dosage supplements and set the stage for a therapeutic trial.

The National Cancer Institute funded the work.

Source: Texas A&M University