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New study investigates turmeric's ability to fight cancer

Around 40 patients with advanced bowel cancer will take part in the trial. Its aim is to test if curcumin, which is found in the spice turmeric, can enhance chemotherapy’s ability to kill bowel cancer cells.

Image: mwanasimba via Flickr/Creative Commons

A NEW TRIAL looking into the bowel cancer-fighting properties of curcumin, which is found in the spice turmeric, is taking place in a hospital in the UK.

The study is being undertaken by scientists at the Cancer Research UK and National Institute for Health Research Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) in Leicester.

They are investigating whether tablets containing curcumin can be safely added to the standard treatment for bowel cancer that has spread.

Curcumin is found in the spice turmeric, and studies have shown that it can enhance the ability of chemotherapy to kill bowel cancer cells in the lab.

Funding is being provided by Hope Against Cancer, The Royal College of Surgeons and the Bowel Disease Research Foundation.

Chief investigator Professor William Steward, ECMC director at the University of Leicester, said:

Once bowel cancer has spread it is very difficult to treat, partly because the side effects of chemotherapy can limit how long patients can have treatment. The prospect that curcumin might increase the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy is exciting because it could mean giving lower doses, so patients have fewer side effects and can keep having treatment for longer.

He added:

This research is at a very early stage, but investigating the potential of plant chemicals to treat cancer is an intriguing area that we hope could provide clues to developing new drugs in the future.

A treatment called FOLFOX is usually given to patients with advanced bowel cancer. FOLFOX combines three chemotherapy drugs but around 40 – 60 percent of patients don’t respond to this medication. There are also side effects for those who do, which can limit the number of cycles they can have.

There are around 40 cancer patients taking part in the trial at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Leicester General Hospital – 75 per cent will be given curcumin tablets for seven days, before being treated with Folfox, while the remaining 25 per cent will be given the FOLFOX treatement only.

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