The incidence of breast cancer is increasing in women worldwide, and it can also occur in men. This has created concerns among young women,  who are starting to look for ways to protect themselves from breast cancer.

After years of research, scientists have now discovered that some natural compounds have a protective effect in breast cancer. Studies also confirm that these naturally occurring compounds fight against breast cancer by regulating the growth and metabolism of cancer cells.

Their role in the prevention of breast cancer is discussed in this article.

Black cumin

Black cumin has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. It is believed to be effective against cancers of various organs of the body such as breast, lungs, liver, kidney and prostate cancers.

The active ingredient in black cumin is basically thymoquinone (TQ) which is extracted from the seeds. Studies even suggest that TQ plays the role of antioxidant as well in addition to apoptosis – cell death mechanism. (1)

  • Experiment on rats with cancers has shown that TQ reduces the number, incidence as well as the size of tumours in various parts of the body. (2)
  • It has been shown that TQ can have direct effect on prevention and treatment of breast cancer. (3)
  • When the extracts of black cumin were combined with an anticancer drug, the antitumour activity of the drug was enhanced. (4)
  • Combination of radiation with TQ revealed enhanced cell death and change in the cell cycle of the breast cancer cells. (5)
  • Black cumin was shown to be effective even in the presence of oxidative stress in making the breast cancer cells inactive. (6)


Epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, is a potential antioxidant that is available in the commonly used beverage, tea. The cancer preventive activities of EGCG have been studied extensively and its tumour inhibiting activities have been shown in cancers of various organs. (7)

  • EGCG has shown cell death and enhancing the natural cell death mechanism of the breast cancer cells. (8)
  • The antioxidant properties of EGCG prevent damage to the healthy cells while the antitumour activities prevent the formation and growth of abnormal cells. This natural, non-toxic agent can be used in the treatment of breast cancers. (9)
  • When EGCG was given orally to breast cancer patients undergoing treatment with radiotherapy, EGCG was shown to enhance the effect of radiotherapy in these patients. (10)
  • The combination of other cancer preventing agents such as curcumin with EGCG has also shown improved results. (11)
  • The muscle wasting – cachexia, caused by cancers, is also shown to be improved by the use of EGCG. (12)


Garlic has been in use for medicinal and culinary purposes for over 7000 years. It is believed to have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal activity. The active ingredient in garlic is allicin, in addition to other components, which has antibiotic and antifungal activity.

  • Freshly extracts of crushed garlics have shown to stop the growth of breast cancer cells and altered their structure. (13)
  • The cancer protective effects of garlic are shown to be a result of their oil soluble sulfur containing ingredients. (14)
  • Garlic extract had a toxic effect on the breast cancer cells when tested in an experiment. (15)
  • Garlic has been shown to reduce the side effects caused by anti-cancer agents. (16)


Genistein is a compound derived from soy. Epidemiological studies suggest that populations with high isoflavone intake through soy consumption have lower rates of breast cancer.

  • Oxidative damage to the breast cancer cells may be the mode of action of Genistein. (17)
  • Soy consumption has been shown to give some protection against cancer in several tissues of the body. (18)
  • The inhibition of formation of blood vessels for the tumour results in the positive anti-tumour effect of Genistein. (19)
  • The effect of Genistein was shown to vary with various concentrations of the active ingredient in the breast tissue. (20)
  • It was shown that different concentrations of Genistein elicited responses in the cancer cells through different signaling mechanisms. These results are thought to be especially relevant in premenopausal women with breast cancer who are on a soy diet. (21)
  • The preventive effects of lycopene and Genistein, alone or in combination, on breast cancer development in female Wistar rats, were investigated. The proportions of breast cancer masses decreased with lycopene and Genistein combination. Administration of lycopene and Genistein combination suppressed breast cancer development. The results suggested that lycopene and Genistein are potent antioxidants and, when given in combination, offer maximum protection against breast cancer formation. (22)


Ginseng is a perennial plant, found only in the Northern Hemisphere. Ginseng has a long history of utility for various health benefits.

  • The effect of ginseng on breast cancer cells has showed that it decreases the survival of breast cancer cells and inhibits their growth as well. It also has positive effect in preventing the metastasis of cancerous breast cells to other parts of the body. (23)
  • The combination of the active ingredient with anticancer drug has shown more effectiveness in inhibition of the tumour growth than either agent alone. (24)
  • The mode of action of ginseng appears to be due to an active ingredient gensinoside, which reduces breast cancer cell proliferation and causes decreased stability of protein in breast cancer cell. (25)


Indol-3-Carbinol is a compound that is derived from an ingredient found in relatively high levels in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, collard greens, and kale, etc.

  • It has shown to possess antioxidant and anticancer properties. (26)
  • It has been suggested that dietary strategies that utilize effective agents such as Indol-3-carbinole and its derivatives may be useful for expression of breast cancer-producing agents. (27)


Lycopene is one of the carotenoids found in tomatoes and other red vegetables such as red carrots, red bell peppers, watermelon, gac and papayas.

  • It is potentially an anticancer agent. Increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables increase the level of components responsible reduce the oxidative damage to the cells.
  • These components include lycopene in addition to the vitamins and other substances. (28)


Dietary selenium can be obtained from nuts, cereals, meat, mushrooms, fish, and eggs. Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source available naturally.

In descending order of concentration, high levels are also found in kidney, tuna, crab, and lobster.

  • Selenium has shown protective effects against breast cancer. (29)
  • The basic research of selenium and its cancer preventive role has given the signal that it handles cell growth and that it can be used as a form of treatment as well as prevention of cancer. (30)
  • Selenoproteins are modified proteins with genetically encoded selenium. They are thought to be very important in response to oxidative stress and regulation of various metabolic processes. (31)

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is present in fish liver oils such as cod liver oil and fatty fishes such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel. In addition, whole egg, beef liver, Alfalfa plant, mushrooms and sunlight can provide Vitamin D to the body.

  • A major source of Vitamin D is the production by the body itself, after sun exposure. It is noted that cancer patients have lower than average levels of Vitamin D in their body. (32)
  • It has also been noted that chronic exposure to sunlight gives more protection against breast cancer than intermittent exposures. (33)
  • The role played by vitamin D in the maintenance of bone health has long been established.  There is an association between vitamin D concentration and breast cancer. (34)
  • Suggestions are being made that the difference between the survival rates of cancer patients may be accounted for by the difference in the levels of Vitamin D. (35)
  • The ecological studies of several countries suggest a positive link between Vitamin D deficiency and cancer incidences. (36)


Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Its prevention is of prime interest in cancer research. The discovery of these natural compounds with anti-cancer properties has introduced a new dawn of hope for the women to prevent themselves from breast cancer. It is now suggested that women should use these natural compounds to protect themselves from the threat of breast cancer.

Source: Dr. Adem Gunes


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