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Spice Ingredient May Cut Breast Cancer Spread

Study Shows Curcumin May Help Keep Cancer From Spreading to Lungs
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 17, 2005 -- Curcumin, the main ingredient in the spice turmeric, may help stop breast cancer from spreading to the lungs.

The finding appears in Clinical Cancer Research. It's based on tests on mice, not people.

"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," says researcher Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, in a news release.

Aggarwal works at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Turmeric is often found in curry spice mixes. Curcumin is used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine to treat a variety of conditions.

Spice Test

WebMD reported on Aggarwal's work in June, when the findings were presented at a breast cancer research conference in Philadelphia.

Now, the details have been published.

The study included 60 female mice that received injections of human breast cancer cells. This caused the growth of tumors. When the tumors had grown to about the size of a pea, they were surgically removed.

Then, the mice were split into four groups. The first group got food mixed with curcumin. The second group got curcumin-laced food and the chemotherapy drug Taxol. The third group got Taxol but no curcumin. The fourth group of mice didn't get Taxol or curcumin.

Best Results From Chemo Drug, Spice

Five weeks later, the researchers checked to see if cancer had spread to the lungs of the mice. Advanced breast cancer often spreads to the lungs.

Virtually all of the mice that hadn't gotten Taxol or curcumin had cancer in their lungs.

The mice that fared best got Taxol and curcumin. They had significantly fewer visible lung tumors.

Taxol and curcumin apparently teamed up to halt breast cancer's spread. But they didn't totally wipe out cancer.

Lung tumors that could only be seen with a microscope were found in 28% of the mice that had gotten curcumin and Taxol. Those tumors might have started before surgery and were blocked by curcumin and Taxol from growing, the researchers write.

How Did It Work?

Here's how the scientists explain the results.

Taxol did its usual job of stomping out cancer. Because it's such a strong drug, Taxol can also stir up inflammation that prompts cancer's spread.

That's where curcumin comes in. It switched off that inflammation, letting Taxol do its work while discouraging the cancer's spread.

The curcumin used in the study was extremely pure. It didn't change the weight or appetite of the mice.

No toxic dose was found for curcumin. It's not clear from the study how much curcumin a person would have to consume to get the cancer-fighting effects, if they hold true for people.

The researchers' bottom line: Curcumin may have "therapeutic potential" against breast cancer's spread. Expect more studies to probe that possibility further.

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