A common fruit may be an alternative to drugs for the prevention of esophageal cancer, according to new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Orlando, Fla.

In a small study of 36 participants in China, researchers found that freeze-dried strawberries can help decrease the risk of getting this common cancer.

“We concluded from this study that six months of eating strawberries is safe and easy to consume,” said lead researcher Dr. Tong Chen, lead researcher and assistant professor, division of medical oncology, department of internal medicine at Ohio State University, said in a news release. “In addition, our preliminary data suggests that strawberries can decrease histological grade of precancerous lesions and reduce cancer-related molecular events.”

Chen and her team specifically studied esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which makes up 95 percent of cases of esophageal cancer worldwide. For the study, the participants ate 60 grams of freeze-dried strawberries a day for six months. They also completed a dietary diary chronicling their strawberry consumption.

“Using freeze-dried strawberries was important because by removing the water from the berries, they concentrated the preventive substances by nearly tenfold,” Chen said.

After the six months was up, researchers biopsied specimens before and after strawberry consumption, and the results showed that 29 out of 36 participants experienced a decrease in histological grade of the precancerous lesions during the study.

“Our study is important because it shows that strawberries may slow the progression of precancerous lesion in the esophagus. Strawberries may be an alternative or work together with other chemopreventive drugs for the prevention of esophageal cancer. But, we will need to test this in randomized placebo-controlled trials in the future,” Chen said.

Esophageal cancer is the third most common gastrointestinal cancer, and the sixth most frequent cause of cancer death in the world, according to Chen.