Maikel Peppelenbosch of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands said tests showed that apigenin -- a common component of fruit and vegetables -- was able to halt the development of two kinds of cells in leukemia and cut their survival chances.
The findings suggest apigenin could hold promise for preventing leukemia, Peppelenbosch said.
But he warned that his study had also found the compound has chemotherapy resistance properties, suggesting it might interfere with standard treatments for people already diagnosed with leukemia.
Apigenin might be a useful preventative agent for leukemia, but it should not be taken at the same time as chemotherapy for established disease as it could interfere with the positive effects of treatment, Peppelenbosch wrote in a study in the Cell Death and Disease scientific journal.
Flavanoids are compounds with antioxidant properties that protect cells against damage by oxygen molecules.
Previous studies have shown that apigenin, which is found in celery, parsley, red wine, tomato sauce and other plant-based foods, may also be beneficial in protecting against ovarian cancer.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland. Editing by Ralph Boulton)