Researchers in South Wales are investigating the possibility that a chemical called Diindolylmethane (DIM), which is usually found in broccoli, sprouts and cabbage, could help to prevent cervical cancer.
Many cases of cervical cancer can be completely prevented if they are found at a very early stage by screening with smear tests. The smear test picks up pre cancerous changes which are usually treated surgically.
But research suggests that DIM may prevent the transformation of pre cancerous conditions into cervical cancer, without the need for surgery.
The new study, funded by Cancer Research UK, will involve 3,000 women who have had a mildly abnormal smear test result or two borderline smears. Usually, these women are not treated but offered a repeat smear test after six months.
The study will use a dietary supplement called BioResponse-DIM, which contains levels of DIM equivalent to two whole cabbages. Women who volunteer will be asked to take two capsules every day for six months which will either be BioResponse-DIM or an inactive placebo.
All the women will have an examination of their cervix when they join the study. After six months of taking the capsules, women will have another smear test and an examination to check whether the problem has improved, deteriorated or stayed the same.
The researches can then compare whether women taking BioResponse-DIM, did better than those taking placebo.
Professor Alison Fiander is leading the trial at the Wales College of Medicine in Cardiff. She explains: "The study will involve women in South Wales who've been told their smear test result is 'borderline' or 'mildly abnormal'. If you're eligible for the trial, you'll get a letter asking you to take part and I urge any woman who receives a letter to seriously consider participating.
"We hope that by giving DIM as a supplement we can prevent these women going on to develop more serious problems. Lead researcher, Professor Peter Sasieni of Cancer Research UK says: "Cervical cancer affects nearly 3,000 women in the UK each year and thousands more are treated for pre-cancerous conditions. Worldwide, the disease is responsible for 274,000 deaths.
"If this trial is successful, it could provide a method for preventing cervical cancer which is far less invasive than existing therapies."