Can Broccoli Play a Role in Warding Off Bladder Cancer?

Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 1:06pm
Department of Cancer Prevention & Control, RPCI

It’s no secret that a healthy diet is one of the best ways to prevent cancer. Many vegetables contain cancer-fighting compounds and nutrients, but research shows that broccoli, in particular, may play a key role in warding off bladder cancer. As part of a team that has done extensive research on this subject, I want to share how and why broccoli is so effective in fighting this particular disease.

The active ingredient in broccoli and broccoli sprout extracts, sulforaphane, is a well-documented anti-cancer compound, most prevalent in broccoli that is about three days old (baby broccoli). It’s effective at not only preventing the formation of cancer cells, but also the growth of full-blown cancer. Studies done right here at Roswell Park by Li Tang, PhD, have also shown that broccoli is inversely associated with the risk of developing bladder cancer and may also improve survival following diagnosis.

So, why is sulforaphane, when given orally, apparently so effective when it comes to bladder cancer? Our bodies don’t actually like this agent and flush it out as soon as possible through urination. During this process, the outgoing sulforaphane comes in direct contact with the urothelium – also known as the inner surface of the bladder, and the location where nearly all bladder cancer develops. The urothelium, and cells within are directly exposed to urine and any sulforaphane in the urine.

We’re learning more about sulforaphane and the role it plays in bladder cancer prevention and treatment, but we’re also quite interested to see how it assists in stopping this disease from recurring.

Approximately 70 percent of superficial bladder cancer cases will recur even after being treated surgically. Intravesical agents, provided via a catheter, are currently given to patients to prevent recurrence, however the agents are lost upon removal of the catheter.

Remember, sulforaphane is administered orally, making this a completely original process. If it is found to be effective at also preventing recurrence of bladder cancer, it may eliminate the need for catheters and potentially lost agents.