Skin Cancer Prevention: Broccoli Has its Day in the Sun

By Carol L. Kornmehl, M.D., FACRO

As the population ages, more people, especially those with light complexions, are being diagnosed with and treated for skin cancer. There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. The most favorable kind is basal cell and melanoma is the most serious form.

Most skin cancers are caused by longstanding sun exposure. Also, as the ozone layer becomes more depleted, the incidence of skin cancer is anticipated to rise. Therefore, it makes sense to reduce sun exposure to minimize a person’s risk of developing skin cancer.

Traditional approaches are applying a thick coating of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to sun exposed areas of the skin, especially those of the face, ears, neck, back of the arms, and hands. It should be noted that sunscreens absorb UV light, thus preventing the radiation from penetrating the skin. Also, avoiding sun exposure when the sun’s rays are most intense, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and wearing protective, opaque clothing, such as long sleeved shirts, long pants, sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat, are helpful measures.

On October 22, 2007, a publication for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported research that demonstrated a sun protective effect from extracts of broccoli stems. The chemical component, called sulforaphane (pronounced sull FOR uh fane) is not a sunscreen. Instead, it boosts the protective systems within cells to counteract the damage caused by UV rays. This effect results in less redness and inflammation of sun exposed skin, and ultimately decreases the risk of skin cancer.

Scientific Data:

The protective effect of sulforaphane was identified fifteen years ago, when a scientist discovered that is prevented tumor development in a number of animals that were exposed to cancer causing agents. The new study examined the effects of broccoli sprout application to small areas of the skin of six human volunteers as well as mice. Volunteers then were exposed to UV radiation, either at the site of the application of the broccoli extract or on an untreated area of the skin.

The results were a 37% reduction in redness and inflammation in the treated areas of the skin. Also, the researcher noted that it took many hours or even days for the protective measures to ensue. However, the results lasted for days after the application was washed off the skin.

Future Directions:

Due to the small number of human subjects in this study, the validity of the data needs to be confirmed by testing it on a large scale. If the data are borne out, it is possible that broccoli extract will be added to creams that one can apply to the skin, either before or after sun exposure.

However, this will not replace the traditional skin cancer risk reduction methods described earlier. Also, people should examine their skin everywhere on their bodies at least once per month. Those who find a suspicious mole should have it evaluated by their primary care physician or dermatologist. The rate of a future skin cancer for someone who has been diagnosed with one skin cancer is nearly 50%. Thus, such people should undergo annual physician skin exams.

The good news is that a simple, safe product extracted from broccoli may indeed be useful in preventing skin cancer, an all too common medical condition.

Dr. Kornmehl is a board certified radiation oncologist and author of The Best News About Radiation Therapy (M. Evans, 2004). She may be contacted via, her website.

Copyright 2007 by Carol L. Kornmehl. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

You May Also Like

Leave a Reply