June 9, 2005 -- The spice turmeric, which is often found in curry powder, contains a chemical that may help stop breast cancer from spreading.
Researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center presented the findings in Philadelphia at the U.S. Defense Department's "Era of Hope" Breast Cancer Research Program. Their study involved mice, not people, so they're not advising anyone to take curcumin for cancer-related reasons.
Curcumin could be of "tremendous value" if it's shown to be effective in humans, "but we're a long way from being able to make any recommendations yet, says researcher Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, in a news release.
Common in Indian Cooking
Turmeric has long been a staple of Indian cooking and traditional medicine. It's also getting attention from researchers in Western medicine.
The breast cancer cells were allowed to grow before being removed from the mice. Treatment started after that. Five weeks later, cancer had spread to the lungs of mice in all four groups. But the two curcumin groups fared best.
Less than a quarter of the mice in the curcumin-plus-Taxol group had cancer that spread to the lungs. So did half of the curcumin group. In comparison, cancer spread to the lungs in three-fourths of the Taxol group and almost all (95%) mice that got no treatment.
Those results were unexpected, so the researchers repeated the test. This time, they let the cancers grow a little bit bigger before removing them.
After five weeks of treatment, half of the mice in the curcumin and curcumin-plus-Taxol groups had cancer in their lungs, says a news release.
"Curcumin acts against transcription factors, which are like a master switch," says Aggarwal. "Transcription factors regulate all the genes needed for tumors to form. When we turn them off, we shut down some genes that are involved in the growth and invasion of cancer cells."
Curcumin is being tested against a type of cancer called multiple myeloma and pancreatic cancer in early phase I clinical trials at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Other groups are conducting a global study of curcumin's ability to prevent oral cancer, says the news release.