Broccoli could be ‘sunscreen against skin cancer’

There are numerous studies that suggest eating vegetables can provide certain health benefits. Now researchers say that broccoli may help to combat skin cancer, not by eating it, but by applying it directly to the skin.

Sally Dickinson, research assistant professor in the Pharmacology Department at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, has teamed up with researchers from John Hopkins University to determine how sulforaphane – a compound found in broccoli – could help prevent the skin disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common of all cancer in the US. More than 3.5 million cases of the disease are diagnosed in the country every year.

Over-exposure to sunlight is said to be one of the main causes of skin cancer, particularly malignant melanomas – the most aggressive form of skin cancer.

Dr. Dickinson says that although there is heightened awareness about the need for reduced sun exposure and use of sunscreens, there are still far too many cases of skin cancer every year.

“We’re searching for better methods to prevent skin cancer in formats that are affordable and manageable for public use. Sulforaphane may be an excellent candidate for use in the prevention of skin cancer caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays.”

Dr. Dickinson began researching the chemopreventive properties of broccoli in 2005. Since then, her research has shown that sulforaphane is highly effective at inhibiting cancer-causing pathways – such as the AP-1 protein – and at triggering chemoprotective genes – such as the Nrf2 gene.

In their upcoming pilot study with John Hopkins University, the research team is looking to test a “topical broccoli sprout solution” on the skin of a group of patients, in order to determine if the solution is effective when the skin is exposed to artificial light.

The solution has been shown to be safe for both topical and oral administration in previous studies, Dr. Dickinson says.

She adds that if the compound is proved to be successful, sulforaphane could be could be used for other applications.

“Sulforaphane is the kind of compound that has so many incredible theoretical applications if the dosage is measured properly,” she says.

“We already know that it is very effective in blocking sunburns, and we have seen cases where it can induce protective enzymes in the skin.”

The team is conducting this study in the hope that patients with weaker immune systems may be able to apply the sulforaphane solution to their skin to reduce their risk of skin cancer.