The Role of Vegetables in Cancer Therapy

By Allan Mai ‘20

Figure 1. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage are potential sources of anti-cancer elements.

It’s no secret that eating vegetables improves your health in more ways than one. A recent study is adding to the repertoire of already known health benefits; benzyl isothiocynate (BITC), a compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, is showing indications of a role in decreasing hepatic precancerous lesions in mice. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer in humans and is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths. The experiment, conducted by Sherin Zakaria and her team at Kaferelsheikh University, potentially opens up new corridors of exploration in cancer prevention therapy.

Previous studies have shown that BITC is useful as adjuvant therapy, which is used to prevent the relapse of cancer. However, there are some contradicting studies regarding the effects of BITC, with some data suggesting that BITC actually proliferates certain cancer-causing molecules, which progresses tumor growth. Other data, however, suggests that BITC inhibits the growth factors of some cells.

The experiment conducted utilized five groups of mice with 15 mice in each group. The cells analyzed in each mouse were the HepG2 and Huh-7 cell lines: HepG2 is an ideal cell line to use in a study of the signaling pathways of HCC cells, while Huh-7 is easy to cultivate in the lab for cancer research purposes. Group 1 was injected with diethyl nitrosamine (DEN), which is a potent carcinogen. Groups 2 and 3 were injected with DEN and oral intakes of BITC. Group 4 was the control and treated with vehicles (substances without any medical effects). Group 5 was the drug control group and injected with high doses of BITC. Results showed a decrease in the growth of HepG2 and Huh-7 cell lines when certain concentrations of BITC were used; further experimentation showed that BITC actually marked the cancerous cells for apoptosis, the manual cell death that cancer cells often circumvent. Moreover, the severity of other hallmarks of cancer such as angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels that feed the cancer cells) was decreased in the rats treated with BITC. Dr. Zakaria and team view BITC as a promising cancer therapy and are hopeful that the compound will see increased usage in the future. In other words, eat your vegetables.



  1. S. Zakaria, et. al., Chemopreventive and antitumor effects of benzyl isothiocynate on HCC models: A possible role of HGF /pAkt/ STAT3 axis and VEGF. ScienceDirect 108 65-75 (2018). doi:  
  2. Image retrieved from:

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