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Curcumin and cancer: Everything you need to know

Curcumin and cancer: Everything you need to know
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Written by Benjamin Semmens, Registered Nutritionist (BHSc)

Curcumin is the active compound found in turmeric and has long been used in Asian medicine to treat a variety of illnesses, but now there’s evidence that suggests that curcumin may even play a big role in cancer prevention and treatment. 

Due to its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it’s been proven to decrease inflammation pathways in the body that play a role in cancer development. This means that it may be capable of preventing or slowing down the spread of cancer, make chemotherapy more effective, and even help protect healthy cells from radiation therapy damage. 


While these studies of curcumin are still in the early stages, clinical trials are now underway to investigate this ingredient’s role in preventing cancer in people with precancerous conditions, as a cancer treatment, and as a remedy for signs and symptoms caused by cancer treatments. Keep reading to learn more about how curcumin may help in the prevention or treatment of cancer by reducing inflammation in the body.

Disclaimer: Research is ongoing, and there isn't enough evidence to recommend curcumin currently as a stand-alone treatment. Consult with your doctor before using any herbal supplement, including curcumin, as it may interfere with certain medications, including some chemotherapy drugs.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most widespread malignant cancer among females and is the

leading cause of cancer-related death in women around the world.  A pro-inflammatory pathway known as NF-κB regulates more than 500 different genes involved in cancer and inflammation and compounds that can inhibit NF-κB may be used in cancer therapy. Curcumin has the ability to reduce NF-κB that may slow down the growth and invasion of breast cancer cells in lab studies.  

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is a widespread condition that is a major cause of cancer-related death in men worldwide. In lab studies, curcumin has been shown to be therapeutic in lung cancer by decreasing NF-κB in human lung cells. Curcumin has also demonstrated to reduce cancer cell growth and induce cell death in lung cancer cells in other lab studies. 

Haematological Cancers

Haematological cancers include a group of cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic systems (our body's 'sewerage system') with the most common types including lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow characterized by the abnormal growth of blood cells. In lab studies, curcumin has shown to suppress TNF-α in blood cells, another pro-inflammatory pathway in blood cells that circulate through the blood and lymphatic system that are involved in tissue damage and infection. In other lab studies, curcumin improved cancer cell death during cases of leukemia.  

Gastric cancer

Gastric cancer is one of the most common causes of mortality worldwide in both men and women. In lab studies, curcumin exerted anti-tumour effects by reducing many proinflammatory proteins involved in gastric cancer. The potent antioxidant effects of curcumin have also contributed to cancer chemoprevention in early clinical trials.  

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is one of the most widespread malignant cancers affecting men and women equally. In colorectal cancer, curcumin exhibited its therapeutic action by affecting many cell signalling pathways involved in cancer development. Curcumin inhibited the growth of cancer cells in rats induced with colorectal cancer. Curcumin also reduced inflammatory pathways in human colon cancer cells and suppressed colon cancer cell invasion by inhibiting Nf-KB in human colon cancer cells.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a very fatal type of cancer with a one-year survival rate of only 10–28% and a five-year survival rate of around 7%. Curcumin has been shown to positively influence pancreatic cancer cells in both lab and animal studies by inhibiting multiple inflammatory molecules.

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer diagnosed in men. In prostate cancer, curcumin exhibited its therapeutic effects by regulating multiple cell signalling pathways involved in prostate cancer growth. In human prostate cancer cells, curcumin led to increased cancer cell death via NF-κB activation and TNF-induced cell death.  Another study reported a reduced growth of prostate cancer cells by activating a potent antioxidant pathway known as NrF2.

Brain cancer

The anticancer effect of curcumin, both alone and/or in combination with other compounds, has also been reported in brain tumours. A 2015 study in the Journal of Nutrition and Cancer reported curcumin as a potent post-treatment, immune boosting agent, specifically for brain cancer. 

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This article does not constitute medical advice and does not take into consideration your personal circumstances. Please see your medical professional before implementing any of the above.

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