Can curcumin benefit patients with bowel cancer?

Investigation into whether taking daily doses of curcumin, a substance in turmeric, in combination with chemotherapy can benefit patients with bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer, also known as colon or rectal cancer, affects 1 in 20 people in the UK. There are over 40,000 diagnoses each year, and in a quarter of diagnoses the cancer has spread to another part of the body. At this stage, the only treatment option for the majority of patients is chemotherapy. FOLFOX is the standard chemotherapy option for the treatment of advanced bowel cancers. This is 40-60% effective but gives side effects such as severe tingling and nerve pain. This discomfort in patients can restrict the number of treatments received. Improvements for the treatment of advanced bowel cancer are being made.

Curcumin in colorectal cancer

Curcumin is a new potential treatment for cancer. It might be able to enhance the effective of chemotherapy and reduce its side effects to give patients a better quality of life. It is a substance found in turmeric, a common spice that is used in Asian cooking. Many studies in the lab have shown that curcumin is effective against cancer cells by halting their growth and killing them. It has also been found to increase the effective of oxaliplatin on cancer cell lines, one of the drugs in FOLOFOX. Studies suggest that using curcumin with FOLOFOX can increase the response rate by 30% compared to using FOLOFOX alone. Curcumin also seems to have neuroprotective properties – and neuropathy is a common side effect of chemotherapy.

Through Hope funding, an encouraging Phase I clinical trial has been done with promising results. Patients took curcumin tablets in addition to chemotherapy. 73% of patients showed a positive response with their tumour shrinking, or remaining stable in size and the response rate was greater than the responses seen with standard chemotherapy. With little side effects, over half the patients reported that their quality of life and functionality had improved by the end of their treatment. Continuous funding from Hope has allowed the recruitment of more patients for a Phase II clinical trial. This trial aimed to find the optimum dosage of curcumin to use, learn more about its involvement in reducing side effects and more about the details of how it helps combat cancer. It is hoped that with promising results, this research will bring the use of curcumin in bowel cancer treatment a step closer for use to the wider public. HOPE is currently funding a PhD studentship also studying the use of curcumin in bowel cancer.


More information (links open in a new tab):

2012 clinical trial funded by Hope Against Cancer using curcumin

Studies and uses of turmeric in cooking

More information in bowel cancer

More information on chemotherapy

University of Leicester catering outlets selling dishes with turmeric to spread the word about its properties