Trials Will Test Curry’s Effect On Bowel Cancer Patients
May 8, 2012

Trials Will Test Curry’s Effect On Bowel Cancer Patients

A new study from the United Kingdom is putting curry to the test, picking it apart to see if an extract of the spice plays a significant role in the treatment of patients with advanced bowel cancer.

Scientists from the Experimental Cancer Medicine Center (ECMC) at the University of Leicester plan to study whether pills containing curcumin, a compound found in the yellow curry spice turmeric, can be safely added to the standard treatment for bowel cancer.

According to Cancer Research UK, previous testing has suggested that curcumin -- known to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and also acts as an antioxidant -- boosts the ability of chemotherapy drugs to kill bowel cancer cells and protects healthy cells from the effects of radiotherapy.

However, the studies were improperly conducted and haven´t shown hard evidence of the spice´s role in cancer treatment, according to University of Leicester researchers.

Their two-year trial will investigate the role curcumin has on cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Leicester General Hospital. The study, which will be jointly conducted by the university and Cancer Research UK, hopes to recruit around 40 patients with bowel cancer that has spread to the liver.

About 40,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year. If the disease spreads to the body, patients are normally given a combination of three chemo drugs, but only about half the patients will respond positively to the treatment.

“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,” said chief investigator William Steward, ECMC director. “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.”

Steward said animal tests combining curcumin and turmeric were “100 times better” than either of the two on their own and that had been the “major justification” for creating this trial.

About 75 percent of the patients in the trial will be given curcumin tablets for seven days, before receiving FOLFOX, a combination of three chemo drugs. The remaining 25 percent will be treated only with FOLFOX and no curcumin/turmeric intervention.

One patient, who already signed up for the trial, was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in January.

Colin Carroll, a 62-year-old compliance consultant from near Loughborough, said his diagnosis “came as a shock because I´d had no symptoms apart from some occasional.”

Scans showed the cancer spread to his liver and three days after being admitted to Leicester Royal Infirmary, he underwent emergency ileostomy. He will need to undergo chemotherapy until mid-August.

“To have something creep up on you like that when you have absolutely no control over it really makes you want to fight back. That´s why I had no difficulty in agreeing to take part in the trial,” Carroll told AFP.

“The Experimental Cancer Medicine Centers Network supports research into some of the most novel and exciting new anti-cancer therapies, often providing the first insights into their effect on cancer patients,” explained Dr. Joanna Reynolds, Cancer Research UK´s director of centers. “By doing a clinical trial like this we will find out more about the potential benefits of taking large amounts of curcumin, as well as any possible side effects this could have for cancer patients.”

Bowel cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the world, affecting an estimated 1.24 million people in 2008, according to Cancer Research UK. The disease is also the second most common cause of cancer death in Britain, with around 16,000 people dying of bowel cancer in 2010.