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Curcumin (Curcuma, Turmeric) and Cancer (PDQ®)–Patient Version

Overview

Questions and Answers About Curcumin

  1. What is curcumin?

    Curcumin comes from the underground stem of Curcuma longa, an East Indian plant. It is also called turmeric. The turmeric plant has been used for many years in traditional Asian medicine to treat many conditions.

    Curcumin comes in different forms. The amount of curcumin in each product labeled as curcumin can vary, making it hard to know how much to use to treat medical conditions.

  2. How is curcumin taken or given?

    Curcumin is taken by mouth as a dietary supplement. It is also found in curry powder, as a major part of turmeric. Curcumin can also be made into a paste to treat skin conditions.

  3. Have any laboratory or animal studies been done using curcumin?

    In laboratory studies, tumor cells are used to test a substance to find out if it is likely to have any anticancer effects. In animal studies, tests are done to see if a drug, procedure, or treatment is safe and effective in animals. Laboratory and animal studies are done before a substance is tested in people.

    Laboratory and animal studies have tested the effects of curcumin. For information on laboratory and animal studies done using curcumin, see Laboratory/Preclinical Studies in the health professional version of this summary.

  4. Have any studies of curcumin been done in people?

    Early phase trials have been done with small numbers of people to see if curcumin products are safe and work in the following ways:

    Researchers have looked at curcumin products for the prevention and treatment of a variety of cancers, including colorectal cancer, oral cancer, and liver cancer. There is not enough evidence to know if curcumin products can prevent or treat cancer.

    Cancer prevention and treatment trials

    • One study looked at the impact of oral curcumin on lesions in the lining of the colon and the rectum known as aberrant crypt foci (ACF). These lesions can be early warning signs of polyps and colorectal cancer. Although patients who received curcumin saw a decrease in ACF, the differences were not significant when compared to the group who did not receive curcumin.
    • A randomized trial looked at the use of an oral curcumin product in 223 patients with oral leukoplakia (thick white patches in the mouth). Compared to the placebo group, patients who received the curcumin product showed improved conditions that were maintained at 6 months. No further benefit was seen with treatment that lasted longer than 6 months.
    • Results from a study of 102 patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) showed that a curcumin product was linked with reduced body mass index and waist size. Many patients who took the curcumin product showed improved liver ultrasound findings and biomarkers of liver inflammation in the blood, compared to the control group.
    • A later study that combined results from four randomized controlled trials of 228 patients with NAFLD who took curcumin products showed similar results for biomarkers of liver inflammation.
    • Results of studies that used curcumin products with traditional cancer treatments have been mixed. Studies of patients with adrenocortical cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, or colorectal cancer have shown improved results when using a curcumin product as an adjuvant therapy. Other studies did not show an improvement in disease. For more information on these study results, see the Cancer Treatment section in the health professional version of this summary.

    Curcumin products have been studied in early phase trials to find out their impact on cancer treatment-related side effects and quality of life.

    Cancer treatment-related side effects trials

    • Although studies have been mixed on oral curcumin given to treat radiation-induced dermatitis, a small study reported a topical cream that contained turmeric reduced dermatitis from radiation therapy.
    • Delayed onset and severity of mucositis (often seen as sores in the mouth) has been reported in trials that used a mouthwash product or oral capsule that had curcumin in it.
  5. Have any side effects or risks been reported from curcumin?

    Few side effects have been reported from the use of products with curcumin. The most common complaint is digestive problems. A small study of patients who took a curcumin product with an anticancer drug found that 1 in 3 patients stopped using the curcumin product because of constant bloating.

  6. Is curcumin approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a cancer treatment in the United States?

    The FDA has not approved the use of curcumin as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.

    Curcumin is available in the United States as a dietary supplement. The FDA does not approve dietary supplements as safe or effective. The company that makes the dietary supplements is responsible for making sure that they are safe and that the claims on the label are true and do not mislead the consumer. The way that supplements are made is not regulated by the FDA, so all batches and brands of curcumin supplements may not be the same.

About This PDQ Summary

About PDQ

Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.

PDQ is a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is the federal government’s center of biomedical research. The PDQ summaries are based on an independent review of the medical literature. They are not policy statements of the NCI or the NIH.

Purpose of This Summary

This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the use of curcumin in the treatment of people with cancer. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.

Reviewers and Updates

Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Updated") is the date of the most recent change.

The information in this patient summary was taken from the health professional version, which is reviewed regularly and updated as needed, by the PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board.

Clinical Trial Information

A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Clinical trials can be found online at NCI's website. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service (CIS), NCI's contact center, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

Permission to Use This Summary

PDQ is a registered trademark. The content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text. It cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless the whole summary is shown and it is updated regularly. However, a user would be allowed to write a sentence such as “NCI’s PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks in the following way: [include excerpt from the summary].”

The best way to cite this PDQ summary is:

PDQ® Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. PDQ Curcumin (Curcuma, Turmeric) and Cancer. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/curcumin-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.

Images in this summary are used with permission of the author(s), artist, and/or publisher for use in the PDQ summaries only. If you want to use an image from a PDQ summary and you are not using the whole summary, you must get permission from the owner. It cannot be given by the National Cancer Institute. Information about using the images in this summary, along with many other images related to cancer can be found in Visuals Online. Visuals Online is a collection of more than 3,000 scientific images.

Disclaimer

The information in these summaries should not be used to make decisions about insurance reimbursement. More information on insurance coverage is available on Cancer.gov on the Managing Cancer Care page.

Contact Us

More information about contacting us or receiving help with the Cancer.gov website can be found on our Contact Us for Help page. Questions can also be submitted to Cancer.gov through the website’s E-mail Us.

General CAM Information

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)—also called integrative medicine—includes a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. A therapy is generally called complementary when it is used in addition to conventional treatments; it is often called alternative when it is used instead of conventional treatment. (Conventional treatments are those that are widely accepted and practiced by the mainstream medical community.) Depending on how they are used, some therapies can be considered either complementary or alternative. Complementary and alternative therapies are used in an effort to prevent illness, reduce stress, prevent or reduce side effects and symptoms, or control or cure disease.

Unlike conventional treatments for cancer, complementary and alternative therapies are often not covered by insurance companies. Patients should check with their insurance provider to find out about coverage for complementary and alternative therapies.

Cancer patients considering complementary and alternative therapies should discuss this decision with their doctor, nurse, or pharmacist as they would any type of treatment. Some complementary and alternative therapies may affect their standard treatment or may be harmful when used with conventional treatment.

Evaluation of CAM Therapies

It is important that the same scientific methods used to test conventional therapies are used to test CAM therapies. The National Cancer Institute and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) are sponsoring a number of clinical trials (research studies) at medical centers to test CAM therapies for use in cancer.

Conventional approaches to cancer treatment have generally been studied for safety and effectiveness through a scientific process that includes clinical trials with large numbers of patients. Less is known about the safety and effectiveness of complementary and alternative methods. Few CAM therapies have been tested using demanding scientific methods. A small number of CAM therapies that were thought to be purely alternative approaches are now being used in cancer treatment—not as cures, but as complementary therapies that may help patients feel better and recover faster. One example is acupuncture. According to a panel of experts at a National Institutes of Health (NIH) meeting in November 1997, acupuncture has been found to help control nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and pain related to surgery. However, some approaches, such as the use of laetrile, have been studied and found not to work and to possibly cause harm.

The NCI Best Case Series Program which was started in 1991, is one way CAM approaches that are being used in practice are being studied. The program is overseen by the NCI’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM). Health care professionals who offer alternative cancer therapies submit their patients’ medical records and related materials to OCCAM. OCCAM carefully reviews these materials to see if any seem worth further research.

Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider About CAM

When considering complementary and alternative therapies, patients should ask their health care provider the following questions:

  • What side effects can be expected?
  • What are the risks related to this therapy?
  • What benefits can be expected from this therapy?
  • Do the known benefits outweigh the risks?
  • Will the therapy affect conventional treatment?
  • Is this therapy part of a clinical trial?
  • If so, who is the sponsor of the trial?
  • Will the therapy be covered by health insurance?

To Learn More About CAM

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) facilitates research and evaluation of complementary and alternative practices, and provides information about a variety of approaches to health professionals and the public.

  • NCCIH Clearinghouse
  • Post Office Box 7923 Gaithersburg, MD 20898–7923
  • Telephone: 1-888-644-6226 (toll free)
  • TTY (for deaf and hard of hearing callers): 1-866-464-3615
  • E-mail: info@nccih.nih.gov
  • Website: https://nccih.nih.gov

CAM on PubMed

NCCIH and the NIH National Library of Medicine (NLM) jointly developed CAM on PubMed, a free and easy-to-use search tool for finding CAM-related journal citations. As a subset of the NLM's PubMed bibliographic database, CAM on PubMed features more than 230,000 references and abstracts for CAM-related articles from scientific journals. This database also provides links to the websites of over 1,800 journals, allowing users to view full-text articles. (A subscription or other fee may be required to access full-text articles.)

Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine

The NCI Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) coordinates the activities of the NCI in the area of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). OCCAM supports CAM cancer research and provides information about cancer-related CAM to health providers and the general public via the NCI website.

National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Information Service

U.S. residents may call the Cancer Information Service (CIS), NCI's contact center, toll free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.

Food and Drug Administration

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates drugs and medical devices to ensure that they are safe and effective.

  • Food and Drug Administration
  • 10903 New Hampshire Avenue
  • Silver Spring, MD 20993
  • Telephone: 1-888-463-6332 (toll free)
  • Website: http://www.fda.gov

Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces consumer protection laws. Publications available from the FTC include:

  • Who Cares: Sources of Information About Health Care Products and Services
  • Fraudulent Health Claims: Don’t Be Fooled
  • Consumer Response Center
  • Federal Trade Commission
  • 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
  • Washington, DC 20580
  • Telephone: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) (toll free)
  • TTY (for deaf and hard of hearing callers): 202-326-2502
  • Website: http://www.ftc.gov
  • Updated:

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