Prevention is always preferable to a cure, and while much of the data are still preliminary, a growing body of evidence suggests that the local green market may be a rich source of anticancer agents. In particular, certain fruits and vegetables seem to have powerful tumor-fighting properties that researchers are just beginning to appreciate--and to study. A sampling of the current crop of findings:
--TOMATOES Scientists have long known that men who eat cooked tomato products such as pasta sauces tend to have lower rates of prostate cancer. Until last week, however, the data were anything but conclusive. A study reported at last week's meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research shows that daily doses of lycopene, an antioxidant that ripens tomatoes and gives them their red color, may not only prevent prostate cancer but shrink existing tumors as well. Men who took 30 mg of the supplement (the quantity found in 2 lbs. to 3 lbs. of tomatoes) had lower levels of prostate-specific antigen--an indicator of cell growth--and smaller tumors.
--SOY Previous studies showed that women who eat soy products such as tofu and soy milk are less likely to develop breast cancer. But it was never clear why. Now a small study of two dozen women may point to an answer: soy seems to keep circulating levels of estrogen low, which in turn inhibits breast cells from proliferating. Women in the study drank more than four glasses of soy milk a day for one month, and their peak blood levels of estrogen dropped 40%.
--BROCCOLI Among all the cancer-fighting vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage stand out, especially in cancers of the bladder. Regardless of how many fruits and vegetables a group of 48,000 men ate, only those consuming broccoli and related cruciferous veggies reduced their risk of bladder cancer, according to a report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Broccoli and its kin may fight cancer by detoxifying organisms in the gut that would otherwise trigger malignancies in bladder tissue.
--By Alice Park