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Curcumin found to halt spread of breast cancer in mice

Curcumin is the main ingredient of turmeric that gives curry its mustard-yellow color. Extracted from the roots of the curcuma longa plant, curcumin is a member of the ginger family//. While it is not used in conventional medicine, it is widely prescribed in Indian medicine as a potent remedy for liver disorders, rheumatism, diabetic wounds, runny nose, cough and sinusitis.

Various studies have examined the carcinogenic effect and anti-cancer effects of turmeric and controversial data has been obtained. A recent study conducted on the effects of the pigment in animal models has been found to inhibit the metastasis to the lungs of mice specifically designed to develop breast cancer. The spice appears to work by inhibiting the action of a protein crucial in the progress of the tumor.

The nontoxic natural substance not only repelled progression of the disease to the lungs, but also appeared to reverse the effects of paclitaxel, a commonly prescribed chemotherapy for breast cancer. There exists a possibility that the long-term use of the drug can trigger spread of the disease over a long period of time. The protective effect of the pigment adds a new ray of hope to risks associated with breast cancer treatment.

The toxicity of Paclitaxel is believed to activate a protein, thereby inducing an inflammatory response and eventually leading to metastasis. Curcumin has been found to suppress this response, making it impossible for the cancer to spread.

There was a significant reduction in the number and incidence of macroscopic lung metastasis in the group treated with curcumin and Taxol. Microscopic metastasis was only found in the lungs of 28 percent of mice treated with the combination. Furthermore, the micrometastasis present consisted of only a few cells, suggesting that the combination inhibited the growth of breast cancer tumor cells that were in the lung before the tumors were removed.

"We are excited about the results of the study and the possible implications for taking the findings into the clinic in the next several years," says Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D., professor of cancer medicine in M. D. Anderson's Department of Experimental Therapeutics. "At this time, advanced breast cancer is a difficult foe to fight with few proven treatments available after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy."

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