This paper gives an overview of the epidemiological data concerning the cancer-preventive effect of brassica vegetables, including cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. The protective effect of brassicas against cancer may be due to their relatively high content of glucosinolates. Certain hydrolysis products of glucosinolates have shown anticarcinogenic properties. The results of 7 cohort studies and 87 case-control studies on the association between brassica consumption and cancer risk are summarized. The cohort studies showed inverse associations between the consumption of cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli and risk of lung cancer; between the consumption of brassicas and risk of stomach cancer; between broccoli consumption and risk of all cancers taken together; and between brassica consumption and the occurrence of second primary cancers. Of the case-control studies, 67% showed an inverse association between consumption of total brassica vegetables and risk of cancer at various sites. For cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, these percentages were 70, 56, 67, and 29%, respectively. Although the measured effects might have been distorted by various types of bias, it is concluded that a high consumption of brassica vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of cancer. This association appears to be most consistent for lung, stomach, colon, and rectal cancer and least consistent for prostatic, endometrial, and ovarian cancer. It is not yet possible to resolve whether associations are to be attributed to brassica vegetables per se or to vegetables in general. Further epidemiological research should separate the anticarcinogenic effect of brassica vegetables from the effect of vegetables in general.

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