Curcumin And Cancer

Many clinicians give their attention to curcumin and cancer. Physicians may use curcumin not as a primary treatment, but may add it as an adjunct to other cancer treatments. Curcumin is the effective ingredient of the old Indian spice, turmeric. The question is how effective curcumin is against cancer? Is it safe to use? What is the evidence?

Frequency of cancer

According to the American Cancer Society there will be 1,688,780 new cancer cases in 2017 and 600,920 cancer deaths will occur in the US.

Causes of cancer

There are many different causes for cancer. Hidden in the many causes may be the possible solution to new cures.

Lack of exercise

A lack of exercise may contribute to the development of cancer because of a lack of tissue circulation. And exercise will help to support your normal cell metabolism (explained below). Wrong foods may or may not have a contributory role regarding cancer development (a high sugar and starch diet causing insulin response, which changes the metabolism). The Mediterranean diet is an anti-inflammatory diet and has been credited to prevent a lot of cancers.


Chemicals, called carcinogens can cause cancer. But oncoviruses can also cause it. Genetic mutations can also cause cancer. That’s why it tends to run more often in certain cancer prone families. But Warburg has researched the metabolism of cancer almost 100 years ago, even got the Nobel price for it in 1931 and yet the elusive cancer cure has not materialized yet.

DNA mutations, tumor suppressor genes metabolic difference between cancer cells and normal cells

Following Warburg’s research Watson/Crick detected DNA in our cells. Ever since geneticists found this fascinating by it. They also found that a cancer suppressive gene, regulated by the p53 gene could develop mutations and then cancer would occur: tumor suppressor genes. For decades this was the “in” thing. But in the last 5 to 10 years there is a revitalization of the original Warburg idea that one should concentrate on the metabolic differences between cancer cells and normal cells. This is starting to show some timid results. Cancer cells are more acidic from lactic acid and burn glucose for energy without requiring oxygen (anaerobic pathway), while normal cells burn glucose in the aerobic pathway in the mitochondria. This difference is important. Certain manipulations are more likely to kill cancer cells.

Cryoablation therapy for prostate cancer

Take cryoablation therapy for prostate cancer. Cryosurgery for prostate cancer. A local deep freeze method like cryoablation therapy kills the more vulnerable cancer cells preferentially leaving  the normal cells intact. Another example is photodynamic therapy for cancer that has been used for lung cancer and esophageal cancer.  This method may be a lot more universally applicable than believed so far. The physician injects a photosensitized dye, which is normal cells eliminate, but cancer cells retain.  Next the physician uses a laser beam that kills the cancer cells preferentially by absorbing the specific laser wavelength that is specific for the dye.

Consumer driven cancer therapies

Nobody knows which way cancer research is going. But I think that consumers will drive this: consumers want better cures. When new methods have better cure rates, consumers will demand treatments with these. Less effective methods will become history. I think that researchers will revitalize Warburg’s ideas and develop new therapies from this as I indicated.

Curcumin and cancer: malignant conversion

There are three development stages for any cancer to develop.

Originally cancer researchers used skin cancers a model. Later they could confirm that initiation, promotion and progression also were present with the development of cervical cancer. The name for this is “malignant conversion”. This needs to happen before a normal cell transforms into a cancer cell. Here are the three stages.

  • Initiation
  • Promotion
  • Progression

This is important to know in the context of curcumin. Basic research has shown that curcumin interferes with all of these stages of tumor development, both in terms of prevention as well as in terms of being curative. Here is a link that points out the complex multiple steps of cancer growth that curcumin interferes with.

Multiple actions of curcumin

As can be seen from it, curcumin interferes with the initiation of multiple cancers, reduces inflammation, and interferes with angiogenesis and this reduces the amount of metastases that can form. But curcumin further interferes with proliferation of cancer cells, reduces invasion, prevents resistance and improves survival. The underlying molecular and genetic reasons for curcumin’s actions are all contained in that link.

Curcumin and cancer: research in tissue culture and animal experiments

When it comes to cancer research, you usually hear about in vitro culture experiments and animal experiments. This type of research is used to establish that there is an anti-cancer effect, that it is reproducible and non-toxic. The September issue of the 2016 Life Extension Magazine reviewed this in detail. It was entitled “How Curcumin Targets Cancer”.

But as a former clinician I am more interested in seeing cancer patients cured. This has to be verified by clinical trials first. When I looked through for objective evidence of the effects of curcumin in cancer patients, this type of information was more difficult to find. But in the following there are a number of examples that I did find.

Curcumin and cancer: clinical trials

1. Reduction of tumor necrosis factor-alpha

A 2016 meta-analysis of eight randomized studies investigated the effect of curcumin in patients with various inflammatory diseases including cancer. They found that curcumin consistently reduced tumor necrosis factor-alpha. In cancer patients this inflammatory substance is responsible for further cancer growth and developments of metastases.

2. Poor bioavailability of curcumin

A study with increasing amounts of curcumin showed poor absorption of curcumin into the blood. In this study researchers were giving dosages between 500 mg up to 12,000 mg per day of curcumin. 500 mg to 8000 mg of curcumin did not result in any positive serum level of curcumin. Only the higher dosages, 10,000 and 12,000 mg of curcumin, caused positive curcumin levels in the blood.  Patients have to take higher amounts of curcumin to have a clinical response. Toxicity studies were done when using higher amounts of curcumin. The results showed taht it was safe and patients tolerated high dose curcumin fairly well.

3. Precancerous colonic polyps reduced in number and size

A smaller study consisted of 5 subjects with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). This is an autosomal-dominant disorder where hundreds of colorectal adenomas develop in the lining of the colon. From these colorectal cancer can arise. Five patients received 480 mg of curcumin and 20 mg quercetin orally three times per day. After 6 months the number of polyps and the size had reduced by 60.4%.

4. Premalignant colonic lesions suppressed by curcumin

44 eligible smoker subjects received a baseline colonoscopy where aberrant crypt foci (ACF) were determined. ACI are the very first focal areas in the colon that lead to colon cancer. Smokers have more of these lesions, which was the reason that researchers chose smoker subjects for this trial. The patients received either a supplement of 2000 mg of curcumin or 4000 mg of curcumin for 30 days. These are fairly high doses. They were used to overcome the poor absorption of curcumin. Colonoscopies were done again after one month of curcumin supplementation. 41 subjects completed the study. In the 4000 mg curcumin group the ACF numbers were reduced significantly by 40% compared to the 2000 mg group, which showed no reduction. The 4000 mg group showed a 5-fold increase of curcumin blood levels compared to baseline. The 2000 mg group had no change in blood levels.

5. Reduction of radiation dermatitis with radiation therapy in breast cancer patients

30 breast cancer patients were divided into an experimental group and a placebo group. All of them had a mastectomy first and subsequently radiation therapy. The experimental group received 6 grams (2 grams three times per day) of curcumin during the time of radiotherapy following mastectomy. The experimental group had  significantly reduced radiation dermatitis following radiotherapy when compared to the placebo group. Only 28.6% had significant radiation dermatitis in the curcumin group versus 87.5% in the placebo group.

6. Chronic multiple myeloma patients

An Australian study involving chronic multiple myeloma patients found that curcumin at 4 Grams per day and even more so at 8 Grams per day stabilized the disease and improved kidney function.

7. Descriptive studies

Descriptive studies investigating the effect of various doses of curcumin have been done regarding breast cancer,  and advanced pancreatic cancer. But these clinical trials were all rather small.

8. Chemoprevention of cancer

A phase II trial enrolled 21 patients with end-stage pancreatic cancer patients. The only FDA approved treatments for this are gemcitabine and erlotinib, but this would normally only lead to clinical responses in less than10% of patients. In this study the investigators used curcumin to enhance the anti-tumor response of either gemcitabine or erlotinib. The study summary stated: “Oral curcumin is well tolerated and, despite its limited absorption, has biological activity in some patients with pancreatic cancer.” 2 of the 21 patients had stable disease for more than 18 months; one of the 21 patients had a brief tumor regression of 78%, but then relapsed and died.

9. Chemoprevention of prostate cancer

Chemoprevention of prostate cancer is discussed in this publication: There was specific reference made to prevention of prostate cancer and the opinion of the researchers was: “At present, there is no convincing clinical proof or evidence that the cited phytochemicals might be used in an attempt to cure cancer of the prostate.”

Curcumin And Cancer

Curcumin And Cancer


For years there have been reports to indicate that curcumin was a promising natural supplement that can improve cancer survival. Many clinical trials regarding the effects of curcumin on colorectal cancer, pancreas cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and others had a poor design. But on closer look the hype seems to come mostly from in vitro studies (tissue culture experiments) or from animal studies. Clinicians, however, demand well-constructed randomized clinical trials with clear research objectives before they can accept a new agent like curcumin to be effective. These clinical trials are missing! Instead there are many in-between trials of questionable quality as listed above.

Problems with bioavailability of curcumin

There have been problems of bioavailability due to poor absorption of curcumin. Pushing the dosage to 6000 to 8000 mg per day succeeded in overcoming this limitation to a certain extent. But a significant percentage of people (around 30%) suffered from abdominal cramps and nausea and had to discontinue these high doses of curcumin. Researchers have developed newer curcumin compounds, but at this point it is unknown what the bioequivalent dosage is of these newer curcumin agents in comparison to the original curcumin dosages.

It is quite possible that researchers will one day design clinical trials  that will bring better news on survival rates of various cancer patients involving curcumin therapy. But in my opinion right now it is not yet prime time for curcumin!

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Pollution And Soaring Lung Cancer Rates

In early 1900 lung cancer was unheard of. This was before the cigarette industry started to mass-produce and market cigarettes.

However, ever since the arrival of the industrial revolution air quality has suffered. In China poor air quality has now reached such enormous values that the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has labeled poor air quality as one of the causes of lung cancer.

When you rank countries by average air pollution measurements, one sees that Europe, the US and South America overall have good ratings, whereas the Middle Eastern countries, China and India have poorer ratings.

However, when the pollution index of cities where the population is much denser than in the countries at large, are tabulated a much different picture emerges: Cities in Iran, India and Pakistan stand out as particularly bad followed by cities in China, Eastern Europe, Paris, London, Berlin, cities in California (the populous State), Chicago and New York.

Pollution does not stay local, but travels through the stratosphere around the globe. The result is that now 10 to 15% of lung cancer in the US occurs in patients who never smoked. This translates into 16,000 to 24,000 deaths annually of never-smokers in the US.

In certain cities such as Beijing the lung cancer rates have doubled in 9 years between 2002 and 2011. As this article shows lung cancer in never smokers can be caused from exposure to radon, to second-hand tobacco smoke, and other indoor air pollutants can also cause such cancers. But the outdoor air quality has been a problem ever since the industrial revolution, which started around Europe in the 1800’s and first part of the1900’s. In the latter half of the 1900’s much of the industrial wave has migrated to the Middle East, to India and China. But the air quality of the whole world has suffered as the jet stream and other air currents carry pollution in the stratosphere all around the globe.

Pollution And Soaring Lung Cancer Rates

Pollution And Soaring Lung Cancer Rates

History of pollution in various regions

1. In Germany’s  Ruhr district (“Ruhrgebiet”) in North Rhine-Westphalia, a highly populated industrial area, pollution reached a peak in the late 1950’s. From 1963 onward many of the coal mines, iron ore mines and other mineral mines closed down. 50 years ago the German Chancellor, Willy Brand was concerned about the environment and promised that blue skies would return to the Ruhr district again.  A special task force was initiated and maximally allowable limits were established for industries’ pollution emissions and enforced by the German government. Government and industry were co-operating in developing anti-pollution measures, which have cleared up a lot of the pollution since. With regard to car emissions lead free gasoline was introduced and carburetors ensured more complete burning of exhaust gases. This is now common and accepted anywhere except for diesel fume exhaust, which nobody wants to address despite proven carcinogenicity.

Now Germany is one of the leaders in green technology, which is also important for tourism.

2. England has its own legacy of pollution in soil and air from the industrial revolution. The soil of moorland, which soaked up acid rain for decades, is more acidy than lemon juice and it will take a long time despite industrial complexes having closed long time ago, before the soil quality will be returned to normal.

3. Hamilton in Ontario/Canada has had a longstanding pollution problem, which I witnessed from 1976 until my departure in 1978. It is well known that Stelco, the local steel plant downtown Hamilton is sending polluting emissions into the air. In 1976 a vising professor from Australia gave an interesting talk about a study that was done at that time regarding the risk of developing bronchogenic carcinoma (a synonym for lung cancer) in the immediate surroundings of the Stelco plant. He said that this was one of the first studies to show that the distance of people’s houses from the source of pollution mattered as that determined how concentrated the air pollution was (the closer the more polluted the air). This  affected cancer rates: they were much higher in the immediate surrounding of Stelco when compared to the average rate in the rest of Hamilton. This difference was very significant within a radius of 1 kilometer (= 0.62 miles) from the Stelco plant.

Just in May of 2013 the local cancer agency of Hamilton announced that the lung cancer rate in Hamilton was higher than elsewhere in Ontario because of a combination of poor air quality and of a higher percentage of people smoking. Then in August 2013 the city of Hamilton announced a new air pollution bylaw for stricter pollution measures to improve the air quality in the downtown area. It is just a pity that Hamiltonians had to wait until 2013 before the city approved an anti-pollution bylaw that could have been passed 50 years earlier like in Germany’s Ruhr district!

4. In 2008 Pittsburg, a former steel manufacturer town like Hamilton, Ont. outdid Los Angeles with regard to small particle air pollution.

Lung cancer prevention by the authorities

As mentioned before up o15% of lung cancer is caused by environmental exposure. So, we ourselves can only prevent 85% of lung cancer by not smoking and not exposing ourselves to industrial emissions or to smoke from incense. However, in many cities around the world you will get exposed to air pollutants that are well above the safe limits, so the risk of getting lung cancer from just breathing the air there can be much higher than in rural areas where there is no industry.

Technologies to control air pollution are widely available. We need to exert pressure on politicians to show leadership around the world. Government regulations to lower emission rates need to be put into place and inspectors need to ensure the rules and regulations are adhered to. Without reducing emissions of cancer producing gases and chemicals right at the source (open burning of cuttings in orchards or burning cut trees), cutting emissions of cars, planes, ships, diesel cars, locomotives, electric generator plants etc. the air quality will not improve. Despite some costs involved industry, governments and individuals have to work together to make clean air happen.

The residents of those countries that have low pollution values will not benefit, if pollution continues to occur in other parts of the world as it just travels in the stratosphere around the globe until it arrives right here at home! We need an international pollution police. Satellites can be used to monitor where pollution occurs and this can be followed up through the local regulatory bodies with penalties and remedial actions.

What can I do personally to prevent lung cancer?

1.The most obvious step is to quit smoking and ask smokers who come to your place to smoke outside (not in your home).

2.Consider moving away from the city, if the air quality is unacceptable to a place where there is low air pollution.

3.Vitamin D3 has been shown to prevent colorectal cancer, but as there are vitamin D receptors found on the surface of various cells in tissue around the body including the lungs, many researchers feel that this vitamin in higher doses (2000 IU to 5000 IU) has probably a wider applicability in preventing cancers, even lung cancer.

4.Cutting out sugar and adopting a Mediterranean type diet is a prudent thing to do; also cutting down your calories to the maintenance you need (mildly ketogenic diet). If you bought body composition scales, it would display what your daily calorie consumption is and you should not exceed this, or else you’ll gain weight. An aging man who is overweight will experience hormone changes as fat is being metabolized and the enzyme aromatase contained in fatty tissue will turn male hormones (testosterone, DHT, androstenedione) into estrogen. Estrogen (particularly estradiol) is a known carcinogen that has been proven to cause breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. However lung cancer is also being promoted in women by estrogen as discussed in this link. In men one needs to remember that lung cells have estrogen receptors and there is concern in aging men with higher estradiol levels that this can promote cell divisions in existing lung cancer. So, it is important to maintain a normal body mass index between 21 and 24 (well below 25.0 and well above 18.5, which are the official accepted limits). This way there is no problem with insulin resistance (too high an insulin level), and other metabolic substances (cytokines, growth hormone like factors and tumor necrosis factor-alpha from body fat) that are cancer promoting.

5. If testosterone deficiency is present, which is common in older men, testosterone will have to be replaced with bioidentical hormones. It is a myth that testosterone would cause prostate cancer. Testosterone in males is necessary to maintain a normal metabolism including the immune system, which then can fight lung cancer and any other cancers.

6. Exercise and reducing beef consumption are also often mentioned in terms of preventing lung cancer.

7. Here are several recommendations from the LifeExtension Foundation that I found very useful in terms of lung cancer prevention. This link shows that antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, alpha tocopherol, the minerals selenium and zinc are also helping to reduce the lung cancer rate. Drinking green tea has also been shown to be effective in a dose-response curve manner (more tea protecting more from lung cancer). Vitamin B12 and folate have been shown to reduce abnormal bronchial cell growth in smokers as shown by repeat bronchoscopy studies.

8. Those who have been smokers in the past and those who have been around heavy smokers for more than 10 years in the past should consider having a preventative bronchoscopy done by a lung specialist (also called respirologist or pulmonologists). This way any suspicious areas with precancerous lesions can be biopsied during the procedure and attended to.

Hopeful research for new lung cancer treatments

Lung cancer is a disease that is best prevented. Once a person gets lung cancer, the prognosis is still very poor. However, cancer researchers are getting close to newer treatments involving genetically modified T-cells (killer cells) as was recently achieved for leukemia. Similar research is going on regarding ovarian cancer, melanoma, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer.

More information about lung cancer:


It is not acceptable to let pollution take its course , the way politicians around the globe have handled this in the past 6 decades with a few notable exceptions mentioned. We all suffer a higher risk of getting lung cancer, even if we have been life-long non-smokers. Right now up to 15% of lung cancer in most populations are of this type. However, in Beijing this number is already much higher. The technology is available; Germany has led the way in the Ruhr district in the 1960’s and beyond. In my opinion the G8 meetings should have this high on their agendas and send technological aid to all the regions that have higher than the average world pollution index under the mandate of a special UN commission. This should be supported by the major industrial players with the knowledge that they will prevent the death of millions of potential consumers down the road, which will on the long-term pay off the relatively minor investment of installing pollution controls, before lung cancer levels rise even more.

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014


Forget The Glass Of Red Wine For Good Health

We have been hearing for over 10 years that 1 glass of red wine per day for women and 2 glasses of red wine per day for men would be recommended in order to prevent a heart attack or a stroke. Now we are confronted with new research from Boston showing that even small amounts of alcohol are bad for you as alcohol is a carcinogen (=cancer producing substance). Misinformation like this occurs when science concentrates only on one angle of health, such as cardiovascular disease prevention and the other part of the equation, the cancer producing (carcinogenic) effect of alcohol, is disregarded.

In 1996 this Australian study followed 1236 men and 1569 women 60 years and over for more than 5 years and studied their mortality rates as a function of alcoholic drink intake. The authors found that there was a short-term protective effect with regard to cardiovascular/stroke mortality. But due to the fact that mortality was the end point for both cardiovascular disease and for cancer, the study was mostly taken as evidence that alcoholic beverages would protect to a certain degree from strokes and heart attacks. The authors were aware that alcohol was cancer causing as they stated, “Those taking any alcohol exhibited an increased proportion of deaths due to cancer at the expense of a reduced proportion of CHD and stroke deaths”. But this part was not mentioned in the popular press or in future alcohol/cardio-protective recommendations. The authors also were aware that the observation time of 5 years was on the short side. We know from other studies that alcohol toxicity requires a longer observation time such as 15 to 20 years or longer to show significance in a multitude of cancers.

Forget The Glass Of Red Wine For Good Health

Forget The Glass Of Red Wine For Good Health

As already mentioned above, recently a new survey of alcohol-caused cancer was published and went through the popular press. Dr. Timothy S. Naimi from Boston University Medical Center was the main investigator of an international team of scientists. The study found that every year 18,200 to 21,300 cancer deaths in the US (that is 3.2% to 3.7% of all US cancer deaths) are directly caused from alcohol consumption. The authors of the study determined that every person who dies from alcohol related causes lost on average approximately 18 years of his/her life (scientists call this “years of potential life lost”).  51% of women developed breast cancer from alcohol exposure, 62% of men came down with upper airway and esophageal cancers. Less than 1.5 drinks per day caused between 26% and 35% of alcohol-related cancer deaths. There was no safe lower margin. The authors concluded, “Reducing alcohol consumption is an important and underemphasized cancer prevention strategy”.

Interestingly, in 2006 other research looked at alcohol caused cancer cases in the world based on WHO data and came to the conclusion that with the increased worldwide consumption, particularly in East Asia, preventative steps by eliminating or replacing alcoholic drinks would be wise.

A recent study in 2012 where cancer rates in the US were compared between Hispanics and Caucasians showed that Hispanics had higher rates of stomach cancer, liver cancer, uterine/cervix cancer and gallbladder cancer. The authors concluded that Hispanics need more screening done such as Pap tests and that effective vaccines (like Gardasil) should be used. In addition effective interventions should be applied to reduce obesity, curtail alcohol consumption and reduce tobacco use.

Studies have shown that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, not even the famous 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men (with regard to heart attack prevention), because cancer incidence increases with increasing alcohol consumption in a linear relationship.

What does alcohol do in the body that it is so dangerous to your cells? Many cancer researchers have researched this question in detail. Essentially, alcohol is by itself a toxin for your cells (the targets being sub particles in your cells called microsomes and mitochondria). Your liver metabolizes alcohol into acetaldehyde, your kidneys excrete it and your lungs exhale it (this is how a breathalyzer can detect how much you have been drinking). All of these chemical changes in your cells release free radicals, which in turn attack other cells. This sets up a chronic inflammatory process, which breaks down your immune system, leads to cell mutations and finally to cancer.

What protects you from cancer?  It is the antioxidants that stabilize the above-mentioned processes: vitamin C, glutathione, vitamin D 3, curcumin, multiple vitamins, magnesium, flavonoid foods, cruciferous foods (like broccoli), exercise and soluble fiber.

So, if you were serious about cancer prevention, you may want to stop any alcohol intake and take the above supplements instead. The heart attack and stroke protection will be achieved by flavonoid foods (perhaps specifically adding resveratrol 250 mg per day as well) and exercise.

If you were less conscientious about cancer prevention, at least reduce your alcohol consumption perhaps to the occasional glass of wine or beer, but avoid high percentage spirits and remember, the less the better! You may be toasting to ill health with that glass of wine. Say no to false advertising of the wine industry! Your body will thank you for it.

More information on alcoholism:

Here is another reference where you can read about the recent Boston study:

Last updated Nov. 6, 2014