Carrots and broccoli could help fight cancer, say Barts researchers

Vitamin A which is commonly found in vegetables like carrots and broccoli could hold the key to beating pancreatic cancer—and it’s based on research first suggested more than 120 years ago.

The discovery has been made by a team from Barts and The London Cancer Institute which has been looking into treatment first envisaged by a leading Victorian medical scientist of his day.

“Our research was based on the ‘seed and soil’ theory for targeting cancer originally proposed by Bart’s surgeon Stephen Paget in 1889,” explained Dr Hemant Kocher, consultant pancreatic and liver surgeon at Barts and The London NHS Trust who led the research.

“Dr Paget studied why breast cancer prefers to spread into certain organs like the liver. He believed some organs provided a more fertile environment for the cancer to seed in.

“We took his theory a major step forward by testing the effect of Vitamin A, which influences cell behaviour, in samples from pancreatic cancer patients.”

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Dr Kocher’s four-year study found that restoring Vitamin A in non-cancerous cells—the ‘soil’ for the vitamin surrounding the cancer seed—changed the cells from ‘facilitating’ to ‘inhibiting’ cancer growth.

“Vitamin A is just one example,” Dr Kocher added. “Other vitamins and medicines could further change the soil’s structure. This opens up new research and possibilities.”

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The research could help survival rates of one of the deadliest cancers that kills 7,500 people in Britain every year. An estimated 250,000 people die worldwide, including film star Patrick Swayze who died in 2009. They are found to be deficient in Vitamin A.

Most do not survive more than a year, while fewer than one-in-five who have surgery and chemotherapy may survive more than two years. It is rare to survive more than five.

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