According to a study, curcumin, the major ingredient of turmeric and the compound that gives curry its mustard-yellow colour, inhibits the spread of breast cancer to the lungs in mice. The study can be further investigated in human subjects.
The study, funded by the United States Department of Defence and conducted by researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer centre, finds that curcumin seems to shut down a protein involved in the spread of breast cancer to other organs.
The study finds that curcumin, a non-toxic natural compound, not only prevents progression of the disease to the lungs, but also seems to be able to reverse the effects of paclitaxel or Taxol, a prescribed chemotherapy for breast cancer that, if used for too long, may actually trigger the spread of the disease. Taxol is so toxic that it activates a protein that produces an inflammatory response, which induces the spread of the disease. Curcumin indirectly acts on the protein and stops the spreading of breast cancer.
'We are excited about the results of the study and the possible implications for taking the findings into the clinic in the next several years,' said Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D., professor of cancer medicine in M. D. Anderson's Department of Experimental Therapeutics. 'At this time, advanced breast cancer is a difficult foe to fight with few proven treatments available after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.'
In the study, 60 mice with breast cancer in four groups were randomly assigned either placebo, Taxol, curcumin, or the combination of Taxol and curcumin. Breast cancer was removed when it grew to a size of 10 mm.
In a previous study published in the Aug. issue of the journal Cancer, M.D. Anderson researchers found when a protein called nuclear factor-kapa B or NF-kB, which promotes the inflammatory response necessary to cause breast cancer to spread, was shut down, cancer cells were forced to commit suicide and cancer strains were unable to grow.
Researchers found curcumin acted indirectly to shut down NF-kB. Taxol activated the NF-kB in breast cancer cells, while curcumin stepped in and deactivated NF-kB by blocking a protein known as "IKK" that would otherwise turn on NF-kB, indicating Taxol and curcumin work against each other. Taxol produced the inflammatory response, triggering metastasis, while curcumin suppressed it, causing cell death.
Researchers caution that the current study is preliminary. Trials need to be performed to firm the preventive and therapeutic effects of curcumin in humans.
(Journal Clinical Cancer Research)