Ask the Expert: Lung Cancer

The Physicians Committee

Ask the Expert: Lung Cancer

Q: Aside from not smoking, are there any dietary factors that help decrease risk for lung cancer?

A: A study published in the Lancet in 2000 suggests that the natural chemicals in broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, and other cruciferous vegetables may protect against lung cancer. Of 18,000 men studied, those with detectable isothiocyanates, a phytochemical, in their blood had a 36 percent lower chance of developing lung cancer than those with none.

Researchers warned the public not to depend on vegetables as infallible immunity against the strong cancer-causing effects of smoking or to rely on isothiocyanate supplements if they are ever produced. More than 20 different varieties of these compounds work intricately together in the body in ways that can't be duplicated in pill form. In fact, antioxidants taken in doses higher than those which occur naturally in plant foods can actually increase cancer risk. The lesson, report investigators, is simple: "Just eat your vegetables, and lots of them."

London SJ, Yuan JM, Chung FL, Gao YT, Coetzee GA, Ross RK, Yu MC. Isothiocyanates, glutathione S-transferase M1 and T1 polymorphisms, and lung-cancer risk: a prospective study of men in Shanghai, China. Lancet. 2000;356(9231):724-729. Erratum in: Lancet. 2000;356(9247):2104.