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If you have experienced the unpleasant effects that a vindaloo can have on your gastrointestinal tract, then you may be surprised to learn that a spice used in most curries is being investigated as an adjunct in the treatment of advanced bowel cancer.
Scientists at Cancer Research UK and the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre of the National Institute for Health Research are to investigate whether curcumin, found in the spice turmeric (Curcuma longa), can safely be used to improve drug response in patients whose bowel cancer has spread to other organs.
Patients with advanced bowel cancer are usually given a chemotherapy treatment known as FOLFOX, which combines folinic acid (FOL), fluorouracil (F) and oxaliplatin (OX). However, about half of these patients show no response and the rest may develop side effects, such as severe tingling or nerve pain, that can limit the number of treatment cycles they can have.
Laboratory studies have shown that curcumin may increase the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy. If this finding can be extended to the clinical environment, patients could be given lower doses of FOLFOX, so that they experience fewer side effects and can keep up the treatment for longer.
The study will recruit about 40 patients with bowel cancer that has spread to the liver. Most will be given curcumin tablets for seven days before treatment with FOLFOX. The rest will receive only FOLFOX.
Turmeric has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine, and research has identified curcumin as responsible for most of its activity. Laboratory studies have shown that curcumin has antioxidant, antiarthritic, anti-ischaemic and anti-inflammatory properties as well as antitumour activity.