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A compound derived from broccoli could help prevent or treat breast cancer by targeting cancer stem cells according to a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The study tested sulforaphane, a component of broccoli and broccoli sprouts, in both mice and cell cultures. Researchers found sulforaphane targeted and killed the cancer stem cells and prevented new tumors from growing.

Sulforaphane has been studied previously for its effects on cancer, but this study shows that its benefit is in inhibiting the breast cancer stem cells. This new insight suggests the potential of sulforaphane or broccoli extract to prevent or treat cancer by targeting the critical cancer stem cells, says study author Duxin Sun, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the U-M College of Pharmacy and a researcher with the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The findings of the study appear in the May 1 issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

  This research suggests a potential new treatment that could be combined with other compounds to target breast cancer stem cells, says study author Max S. Wicha, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Oncology and director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The concentrations of sulforaphane used in the study were higher than what can be achieved by eating broccoli or broccoli sprouts. Prior research suggests the concentrations needed to impact cancer can be absorbed by the body from the broccoli extract, but side effects are not known. While the extract is available in capsule form as a supplement, concentrations are unregulated and will vary.