A compound found in broccoli could reduce the risk of developing a particularly deadly form of breast cancer. 

In a new study, carried out by researchers at the University of Missouri, luteolin – a compound found in certain herbs and vegetables – was shown to prevent the spread of triple negative breast cancer tumours in mice.

Triple negative breast cancer is a notoriously difficult-to-treat form of breast cancer which lacks three molecules commonly targeted by modern-day therapies: oestrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2).

The disease makes up around 15-20 of all breast cancers in the US.

The study initially investigated the use of luteolin in mice with triple negative breast cancer tumours in its ability to prevent spreading of cancer cells to the lungs.

After confirming the compound did indeed prevent cancer cell metastasis, the team then conducted an in vitro study, exposing triple negative breast cells to lab dishes treated with luteolin. The compound prevented cell migration.

In addition, in mouse models, the compound was found to be completely safe, incurring no side effects.

“Because of [triple negative breast cancer’s] lack of receptors, common cancer drugs can’t ‘find’ the cells, and doctors must treat the cancer with extremely aggressive and highly toxic treatment strategies,” said Salman Hyder, professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center. “Women with this type of breast cancer also frequently develop metastatic lesions that originate from drug-resistant cells. Therefore, safer therapeutic therapies that are more effective are being sought for this deadly type of cancer in women.

“We contend that these studies support further investigation of luteolin as an anti-metastatic agent that could be used to combat triple-negative breast cancer and its metastasis.”

If further studies are successful, the team plans to request federal government authority to develop a new drug using the compound. The team may then advance the drug into human trials.