Researchers carrying out the study were led by Steven M. D'Ambrosio, a member of the molecular carcinogenesis and chemoprevention program at Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The boffins noted that phytochemicals, compounds thought to have health-protecting qualities, extracted from avocados target multiple signalling pathways and increase the amount of reactive oxygen within the cells, leading to cell death in pre-cancerous cell lines. But the phytochemicals did not harm normal cells.
D'Ambrosio said that this was the first study that showed that avocados could be beneficial for oral cancer.
"As far as we know, this is the first study of avocados and oral cancer. We think these phytochemicals either stop the growth of precancerous cells in the body or they kill the precancerous cells without affecting normal cells," he said.
"Our study focuses on oral cancer, but the findings might have implications for other types of cancer. These are preliminary findings, and more research is needed," he added.
Haiming Ding from Ohio State's College of Medicine added: "These studies suggest that individual and a combination of phytochemicals from the avocado fruit may offer an advantageous dietary strategy in cancer prevention."
Avocados are chock-full of beneficial antioxidants and phytonutrients, including vitamin C, folate, vitamin E, fiber and unsaturated fats. They are naturally sodium-free, contain no trans fats and are low in saturated fat, making them a healthy addition to any diet.
Other Ohio State researchers involved in the study are Young-Won Chin in the College of Pharmacy and A. Douglas Kinghorn in the Comprehensive Cancer Center. The California Avocado Commission provided the Hass avocados for the research.
The findings are published online in the journal Seminars in Cancer Biology.