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September 16, 2011

Curcumin shows promise in reducing head and neck tumor growth

Curcumin shows promise in reducing head and neck tumor growth

The September 15, 2011 issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research published the outcome of a pilot study conducted by researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center which demonstrated a potential for curcumin, a compound that occurs in the spice turmeric, to suppress a pathway involved in head and neck cancer growth.

University of California Los Angeles professor of head and neck surgery Marilene Wang and her associates tested the effects of curcumin in a study involving 21 patients with head and neck cancers. Prior to and immediately after chewing two tablets that provided a total of 1,000 milligrams curcumin, the subjects provided saliva samples that were analyzed for proinflammatory cytokines that fuel cancer growth. Samples obtained one hour later were evaluated for the activity of IKKB kinase, an enzyme involved in inflammation that activates nuclear factor kappa beta (NFkB), which increases cancer growth.

Dr Wang and colleagues found a reduction in salivary proinflammatory cytokines as well as inhibition of the cell signaling pathway involving IKKB kinase following administration of curcumin. "The curcumin had a significant inhibitory effect, blocking two different drivers of head and neck cancer growth," Dr Wang stated. "We believe curcumin could be combined with other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation to treat head and neck cancer. It also could perhaps be given to patients at high risk for developing head and neck cancers – smokers, those who chew tobacco and people with the HPV virus – as well as to patients with previous oral cancers to fight recurrence."

"This study shows that curcumin can work in the mouths of patients with head and neck malignancies and reduce activities that promote cancer growth," she continued. "And it not only affected the cancer by inhibiting a critical cell signaling pathway, it also affected the saliva itself by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines within the saliva."

Dr Wang noted that the amount of curcumin necessary to elicit a response is much greater than that which would be found in food that has been flavored with turmeric. Her team is planning a trial that will compare biopsy samples before and after treatment with curcumin in cancer patients scheduled for surgery.

"There's potential here for the development of curcumin as an adjuvant treatment for cancer," Dr Wang noted. "It's not toxic, well tolerated, cheap and easily obtained in any health food store. While this is a promising pilot study, it's important to expand our work to more patients to confirm our findings."

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Health Concern Life Extension Highlight

Complementary alternative cancer therapies

Complementary alternative medical therapies (CAM) is a collective term for an array of remedies that lie outside what is traditionally considered conventional medical treatment for cancer. These include the use of herbal, vitamin, and nutritional supplements, as well as physical and psychological interventions such as exercise, relaxation, massage, prayer, hypnotherapy, and acupuncture (Deng G et al 2005; Hann D et al 2005; Molassiotis A et al 2005). The use of CAM as a component of integrated cancer treatment regimens may help patients reduce the side effects associated with conventional cancer treatments, alleviate symptoms, enhance immune function, and provide greater quality of (and control over) life (Deng G et al 2004, 2005).

Natural strategies known to prevent the development and progression of cancer include:

  • Calcium
  • Carotenoids
  • Curcumin
  • Garlic
  • Green and black teas
  • Folic acid
  • Melatonin
  • Selenium
  • Silymarin
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

Curcumin, extracted from the spice turmeric, has preventive and therapeutic anticancer properties (Aggarwal BB et al 2003; Sharma RA et al 2004).

Curcumin can stop the growth of cancers of the prostate (Dorai T et al 2000; Dorai T et al 2004), colon (Narayan S 2004), and breast (Inano H et al 2000). In a phase I clinical study of colorectal cancer patients, curcumin in doses of up to 3.6 grams a day improved some clinical markers and was not associated with any toxicities (Sharma RA et al 2004). Clinical studies have shown that curcumin in doses of up to 10 grams a day had no adverse effects in humans (Aggarwal BB et al 2003).

Curcumin is known to arrest the growth of established cancer (Furness MS et al 2005) by interfering with the production of growth factors that cancer cells need to establish new blood vessels and thus invade other organs, a process known as angiogenesis (Arbiser JL et al 1998; Dulak J 2005; Furness MS et al 2005).

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