Washington, Oct. 8 (Reuters): A blistering dish of curry may be just what the doctor ordered for preventing the skin redness and burning caused by cancer radiation therapy, researchers have said.
Tests on mice suggest that the compound that makes curry yellow may help prevent the blisters and burns that some cancer patients suffer when getting radiation therapy, the doctors told a meeting of radiation treatment specialists. “If a non-toxic, natural substance can help prevent this damage and enhance the effectiveness of our radiation, that’s a winning situation,” said Dr Paul Okunieff, chief of radiation oncology at the University of Rochester’s Wilmot Cancer Center, in an interview.
The compound is curcumin, which makes the spice turmeric yellow. “Curcumin is a combination of molecules and we have been studying certain specific components of it. It has been used in traditional medicine with some argued effect. But no components have been purified so you don’t really know what they gave.”
Okunieff and colleagues tested 200 mice, giving them three doses of curcumin for five to seven days. On the fifth day, mice were given a single dose of radiation and some got curcumin afterward as well.
“There were far fewer blisters or burns on the mice who had been given curcumin,” Dr Ivan Ding, who also worked on the study, said in a statement.
“The exciting thing about it is, it always worked,” Okunieff said. “It always substantially protected against the early sunburn-type reaction. At 90 days the scarring was less. It looked liked it really was working.”
Mice that had been given cancer also were tested, and their tumours seemed to respond more dramatically to the X-ray treatments after the animals ate or were injected with curcumin, Okunieff said. Other tests have suggested curcumin may help stop tumours from growing the blood vessels they need to feed themselves.
In the mice given curcumin, the immune system produced fewer inflammatory chemicals called chemokines in response to the radiation, Okunieff told a meeting of American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology in New Orleans. “We believe from other work that this is the reason why the reaction is less,” he said.
Okunieff cautioned that the work must be repeated first in other animals, and then in people, to be accepted as valid.
One question is whether people who eat turmeric regularly already have fewer side effects from radiotherapy but Okunieff said he was not aware of anyone having done such a study.
He also said it is impossible to compare cancer rates between India and China, where curries are popular, and the United States because the pattern of cancer as a disease is very different.