Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world. Over the past few decades, there have been great advances in cancer therapies, but the incidence and mortality remain high. Scientists are searching for more efficient cancer treatments that are less toxic. Turmeric has received a lot of attention as an anticancer agent. What is turmeric and how can it help cancer patients?
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a plant indigenous to South Asia that is now cultivated around the world in tropical climates. It is a rhizome (rootstock) that is commonly used as a spice and coloring agent in Asian cuisine. Traditional healers use turmeric to improve digestion and circulation. Turmeric extracts are available as dietary supplements for a variety of medical conditions, ranging from arthritis to cancer.1
Is turmeric good for cancer treatment?
Turmeric has been studied in patients battling various types of cancers with promising results.
- Treatment with turmeric increased body weight and general health in colorectal cancer patients awaiting surgery. Turmeric was also found to speed up apoptosis (programmed cell death) of tumor cells.2
- Patients with advanced pancreatic cancer treated with oral turmeric showed stability of their disease and tumor regression with no toxic effects.3
- Combination treatment with turmeric and gemcitabine chemotherapy in pancreatic cancer patients was found to be safe.4
- Turmeric was found to reduce the incidence of hand-foot syndrome, a side effect of capecitabine therapy.5
- Men with prostate cancer showed a significantly lower rate of rising PSA after treatment with turmeric and other supplements.6
- In patients with head and neck cancer, the topical application of a turmeric-based cream helped prevent radiation-induced dermatitis. Turmeric was also found to control symptoms of oral mucositis (mouth inflammation) in cancer patients receiving chemo and/or radiotherapy.7,8
- Turmeric reduced pain and inflammation in patients with early-stage breast cancer receiving aromatase inhibitor treatment (Arimidex, Femara, Aromasin).9
How does turmeric fight cancer?
Clinical trials have shown that turmeric decreases the concentration of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, which is a key mediator of inflammation in the body.1 The link between inflammation and cancer is well established. Turmeric also has an antiproliferative effect, i.e., it prevents cancer cells from multiplying.1 It has been shown to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells.1 Experiments have shown that turmeric suppresses the production of PSA in prostate cells (patients with prostate cancer have high levels of PSA).1 Another possible mechanism of action is the anti-angiogenic property of turmeric (it prevents the formation of new blood vessels which are needed to support tumor growth).1
What are the side effects of turmeric?
For the most part, turmeric is safe to use without toxic effects.3,4 However, there are some case reports of allergic dermatitis and contact urticaria (skin reactions) associated with the use of turmeric powder.1 It is also possible that turmeric may interact with other drugs a cancer patient is receiving.1