Skip to content

Breast Cancer Health Center

Spices May Prevent Breast Cancer

Compounds Found in Black Pepper and Curry Powder Appear to Thwart Growth of Early Cells That Lead to Breast Cancer
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 15, 2009 -- A new study suggests that compounds found in black pepper and curry powder help halt the growth of stem cells that give rise to breast cancer.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center applied piperine, found in black pepper, and curcumin, the main ingredient in the curry spice turmeric, to breast cancer cells in a laboratory dish. The spices, when used in combination, reduced the number of stem cells but did not harm normal breast cells.

“If we can limit the number of stem cells, we can limit the number of cells with [the] potential to form tumors,” Madhuri Kakarala, MD, PhD, RD, clinical lecturer in internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and a research investigator at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, says in a news release.

Stem cells have the potential to develop into many different cell types. Cancerous stem cells are believed to fuel tumor growth. Some researchers believe that controlling or even curing cancer involves targeting stem cells.

The study team discovered that piperine enhanced curcumin's effects. Curcumin and piperine are dietary polyphenols. Polyphenols are known to have anti-inflammatory and other protective properties. Together, the two spices prevented the breast cancer-initiating stem cells from regenerating and producing new cancer cells, a process called self-renewal. Yet the compounds appeared to have no effect on the normal cell development process.

“This shows that these compounds are not toxic to normal breast tissue,” Kakarala says. “The concept that dietary compounds can help is attractive, and curcumin and piperine appear to have very low toxicity.”

The spice solution in this experiment was about 20 times more potent than the individual spices found in a typical diet. Because piperine and turmeric have not been tested in patients at risk for breast cancer, the study team does not encourage supplement use at this time. They plan to conduct a clinical trial to determine the safe dose of curcumin and piperine in people.  

This year in the United States, doctors will diagnose 192,370 new cases of invasive breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 

WebMD Special Sections