Phytochemicals in cancer prevention and therapy: truth or dare?

Toxins (Basel). 2010 Apr;2(4):517-51. doi: 10.3390/toxins2040517. Epub 2010 Mar 31.


A voluminous literature suggests that an increase in consumption of fruit and vegetables is a relatively easy and practical strategy to reduce significantly the incidence of cancer. The beneficial effect is mostly associated with the presence of phytochemicals in the diet. This review focuses on a group of them, namely isothiocyanate, curcumin, genistein, epigallocatechin gallate, lycopene and resveratrol, largely studied as chemopreventive agents and with potential clinical applications. Cellular and animal studies suggest that these molecules induce apoptosis and arrest cell growth by pleiotropic mechanisms. The anticancer efficacy of these compounds may result from their use in monotherapy or in association with chemotherapeutic drugs. This latter approach may represent a new pharmacological strategy against several types of cancers. However, despite the promising results from experimental studies, only a limited number of clinical trials are ongoing to assess the therapeutic efficacy of these molecules. Nevertheless, the preliminary results are promising and raise solid foundations for future investigations.

Keywords: clinical trials; apoptosis; curcumin; epigallocatechin gallate; genistein; glucosinolates; isothiocyanate; lycopene; phytochemicals; resveratrol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Carotenoids / pharmacology
  • Catechin / analogs & derivatives
  • Catechin / pharmacology
  • Curcumin / pharmacology
  • Genistein / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacology
  • Lycopene
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Resveratrol
  • Stilbenes / pharmacology


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Isothiocyanates
  • Stilbenes
  • Carotenoids
  • Catechin
  • epigallocatechin gallate
  • Genistein
  • Curcumin
  • Resveratrol
  • Lycopene