Multiple studies have demonstrated the anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin, a natural compound found in the yellow spice, turmeric (used in curry.) Research seems very promising suggesting that adding supplemental curcumin (likely as a high-dose isolated extract) may enhance the anti-cancer effects of certain chemotherapy drugs and possibly radiation therapy. To date, most of the studies have been conducted in petri dishes and in animals.
A recently published manuscript (in October 2010, in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics) reported a significant cancer inhibitory effect on implanted head and neck cancer tumors (specifically, squamous cell carcinomas) in mice that were given a standard chemotherapy drug, cisplatin. When the mice were given an injection of a curcumin extract in addition to cisplatin, the anti-cancer effects were significantly enhanced. Importantly, the addition of curcumin enabled the researchers to give a lower dose of cisplatin (a dose that was known to be too low to inhibit cancer cell progression) and still see a significant anti-cancer effect. The implications of this are that less toxic doses of chemotherapeutics may eventually be able to be employed in the treatment of various cancers if it is proven that the synergistic effects of curcumin exist within humans as well.
Don’t expect that by sprinkling curry or turmeric on your food is going to deliver a large anti-cancer effect. Scientists have found that curcumin is very minimally absorbed across the gut and requires large doses (beyond what can be easily consumed) to even be detected in the blood. The forms of curcumin that have been used in these studies are highly extracted and isolated compounds.
If you are thinking of taking any dietary supplements while undergoing active cancer therapies (i.e. chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, radiation therapy, surgery, etc.), first discuss this with your oncology team. Researchers have not yet proven the efficacy, dose and safety of adding curcumin to the conventional chemotherapy and radiation therapy regimens for treating cancers in humans.