Patients with pancreatic cancer may benefit from therapy that combines a cancer medication and an organic compound found in broccoli, according to a study published in Cancer Research (2010 Jun 15;70(12):5004-13).

According to background information provided by the study’s authors, cancer stem cells are responsible for uncontrollable growth of the cancer, metastasization to other organs, and recurrence shortly after surgery. In addition, they are extremely resistant to conventional therapy and are the focus of new treatment strategies.

In the first part of the study, researchers reported that while the cancer medication sorafenib greatly reduced tumor growth, its effect lasted only for a short time. They found that after four weeks, new colonies of cancer stem cells formed that no longer responded to further treatment with sorafenib. “This resistance is probably related to a certain metabolic pathway, the NF-KB pathway, that is activated by sorafenib,” explained Vanessa Rausch, a researcher at Heidelberg University Hospital’s Department of Surgery and primary author of the article.

Continue Reading

However, further experiments revealed that sulforaphane, an anti-cancer compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, prevented the activation of the NF-KB pathway by sorafenib and that metastasis was completely blocked in the cell culture experiment. As a result, researchers concluded that the combination treatment reinforced the effect of sorafenib without causing additional side effects.

“We assume that nutrition may be a suited approach to break therapy resistance of cancer stem cells and thus make tumor treatment more effective,” concluded Professor Dr. Ingrid Herr, Head of the Department of Molecular Oncosurgery, a group of the Department of Surgery at Heidelberg University Hospital.