“Cancer chemoprevention” is a term that’s received a great deal of attention in recent years. It refers to the use of nontoxic natural or synthetic chemicals to halt the development of cancer.
Many research studies have focused on the cancer chemopreventive properties of botanical substances. One of the most extensively investigated of these plant-based substances is curcumin, a yellow coloring ingredient well known due to its derivation from the Indian spice turmeric. (Curcumin/turmeric has also been used medicinally for centuries in the Indian botanical tradition called Ayurveda.)
A 2007 review article on curcumin and cancer chemoprevention summarized the state of scientific research, while also calling for further study to define more exactly the cancer prevention benefits and mode of action of curcumin:
Curcumin has been shown to protect against skin, oral, intestinal, and colon carcinogenesis and also to suppress angiogenesis and metastasis in a variety animal tumor models. It also inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells by arresting them in the various phases of the cell cycle and by inducing apoptosis. Moreover, curcumin has a capability to inhibit carcinogen bioactivation via suppression of specific cytochrome P450 isozymes, as well as to induce the activity or expression of phase II carcinogen detoxifying enzymes. Well-designed intervention studies are necessary to assess the chemopreventive efficacy of curcumin in normal individuals as well as high-risk groups. Sufficient data from pharmacodynamic as well as mechanistic studies are necessary to advocate clinical evaluation of curcumin for its chemopreventive potential.
Reference: Surh YJ, Chun KS. Cancer chemopreventive effects of curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:149-72.
We also note a 2005 laboratory study suggesting that curcumin could have a therapeutic value in treating primary effusion lymphoma, a difficult to treat type of cancer usually associated with AIDS/HIV:
Uddin, et al. Curcumin suppresses growth and induces apoptosis in primary effusion lymphoma. Oncogene (2005) 24, 7022–7030.