DEC 13, 2017 05:50 AM PST

Broccoli & Soy Could Help Breast Cancer Patients in the Long Run


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Chemotherapy is intended to be an aggressive attack on cancer, but all too often, the body also sustains major injuries from this treatment, even after the therapy has stopped. Now, one study finds that loading up on cruciferous vegetables may slash the long-term side effects of cancer treatment, at least for breast cancer.

Going through chemotherapy takes a toll on the body and the mind. For some women treated with chemo for breast cancer, the effects of chemo can reach as far as the brain. Only recently did researchers found real and quantifiable evidence of chemotherapy’s effects on the brain, which they dubbed “chemo brain.” In addition, other common long-term side effects of chemotherapy include early menopause and chronic fatigue.

"These symptoms can adversely impact survivors' quality of life and can lead them to stopping ongoing treatments," said Sarah Nomura, a researcher at the Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and the study’s lead author.

Nomura’s team wondered if the benefits of cruciferous vegetables - previously linked to help prevent type 2 diabetes and mouth cancer - could also help reduce chemotherapy’s collateral damages in breast cancer patients.

The study followed 365 women who received primary treatment for their recent breast cancer diagnosis. Nomura’s team collected information information on the post-treatment symptoms reported by the women, as well as dietary information.

Correlating dietary intake to post-chemotherapy symptoms, the team found women who consumed more cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, garden cress) and soy foods (tofu, soy milk, edamame), were less likely to experience early menopause and fatigue.

"In this population of breast cancer survivors, higher soy and cruciferous vegetable intake was associated with less treatment-related menopausal symptoms and fatigue,” the authors concluded.

The idea that cruciferous vegetables may hold anticancer benefits is not a new one. Scientists have long known that vegetables like broccoli are high in an antioxidant compound known as sulforaphane. As an antioxidant, sulforaphane inhibits the oxidation of molecules, thereby buffering cells against damages brought on by carcinogens.

As for soy, these foods are high in isoflavones, which can mimic the effects of estrogen to mitigate menopausal symptoms.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note the authors derived their conclusions mainly from telephone surveys with patients, which may be more subject to biases. Thus, these conclusion are better served as a point for further investigation.

Additional sources: MNT

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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