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cabbage-1078163_1920As someone working in oral surgery, oral pathology and biopsies are a large part of my work. Treatment and biopsies of lesions, ulcers, masses, cysts, and other pathology conditions are part all part of an oral surgeon’s repertoire. While there are many varieties of lumps, masses, and growths that may be benign and/or easy to treat, it is also important to see an oral surgeon right away to make sure a diagnosis and treatment can happen as soon as possible in the case or oral cancer.

According to the CDC, more than 30,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed, and over 8,000 deaths occur due to oral cancer each year. The five year survival rate for these types of cancer is about 50%, and early detection is the biggest key to increasing the survival rate.  

Because prevention is always better than even the best treatment, I wanted to share with you this report, wherein a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh shows that cruciferous vegetables may help prevent the recurrence of oral cancer.

It’s no surprise to anyone reading that veggies are good for your health. But this study specifically shows that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cress can activate a gene in your body that can help detoxify carcinogens. Though the study was specifically focused on oral cancer recurring in patients, this information may be of equal value to prevention of ever forming the disease at all.

“With head and neck cancer, we often clear patients of cancer only to see it come back with deadly consequences a few years later,” said lead author Julie Bauman, M.D., M.P.H., co-director of theUPMC Head and Neck Cancer Center of Excellence. “Unfortunately, previous efforts to develop a preventative drug to reduce this risk have been inefficient, intolerable in patients and expensive. That led us to ‘green chemoprevention’—the cost-effective development of treatments based upon whole plants or their extracts.”

The test was conducted with potent doses of broccoli sprout extract. They found that cruciferous vegetables contain a high concentration of sulforaphane, which is a naturally-occurring molecular compound in these types of veg. Sulforaphane has previously been shown to protect against environmental carcinogens in the human body. These doses of broccoli sprout extract active a “detoxification” gene, which induced both the healthy cells and the cancer cells in the study to increase levels of a protein that is known to promote detoxification of carcinogens and also protects cells from cancer.

From the report: “In a small preclinical trial, 10 healthy volunteers drank or swished fruit juice mixed with broccoli sprout extract for several days. The volunteers had no significant problems tolerating the extract and the lining of their mouths showed that the same protective genetic pathway activated in the laboratory cell tests was activated in their mouths, meaning that the sulforaphane was absorbed and directed to at-risk tissue.”

The results were so successful in the preclinical trial in mice, humans, and lab tests was so successful that a larger clinical trial of volunteers has already begun.

Smoking, as well as other forms of smokeless tobacco, greatly increases the risk of oral cancer. As does excessive alcohol consumption, excessive sun exposure, and HPV. A family history of cancer also puts you at a higher risk. In addition, it’s important to remember that over 25% of oral cancer occurs in people who do not smoke and who only drink occasionally, so other methods of prevention, like eating cruciferous veggies, may be important health measures for everyone.