Before talking about turmeric and breast cancer let me talk a bit about breast cancer. When body cells divide uncontrollably, tumors are formed. If the cells forming the tumor are normal, the tumor is benign and if not it is cancerous. Cancers are named after the organ from where they originate. Breast cancer usually originates in breast tissues and can subsequently spread to surrounding tissues and other organs. There is no specific cause for breast cancer although genetics, ethnicity age, diet can all be contributing factors.
Some of the symptoms of breast cancer include lump under the armpits, a pea-sized mass in the breast, clear fluid or bloody discharge from the nipple, change in the breast shape and size, redness around the nipple or breast etc. Once the diagnosis has confirmed the presence of breast cancer, treatment can involve radiation or chemotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy or a combination of other drugs.
If you are facing any of the above symptoms, I would suggest tovisit a doctor immediately for proper check-up.
Turmeric & Breast Cancer
Laboratory studies have established that curcumin – the chemical compound in turmeric – does offer anti-cancer benefits. It can cause cancer cell death, therefore preventing their proliferation. I have already discussed a few of these in my previous articles. Of the different cancers, curcumin is said to offer the best effects for bowel cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer and stomach cancer cells.
I am summarizing results of some interesting studies pointing towards how turmeric can help in preventing breast cancer and also helping the ones who already have it.
Research found that curcumin worked against transcription factors. These are like master switches that regulate genes required to form tumors. When transcription factors are shut off, some of the genes that cause the growth and attack of cancer cells are inhibited.
Stops spread of cancer
Studies find that regular use of turmeric may lower incidences of lung, colon, prostate and breast cancer. Apart from preventing formation of tumors, curcumin can even help when breast cancer is already present by slowing down its spread to the lungs. The studies were conducted on mice which were injected with breast cancer cells from humans. The resultant tumors were then removed in order to stimulate a mastectomy. One group of the mice were the control group and they received no treatment, the 2nd was given Taxol a cancer drug, the 3rd group was given curcumin and the 4th group received a treatment of both Taxol and curcumin. After 5 weeks, the mice in all the groups were tested. Breast cancer had spread to the lungs of just 50% of the pure curcumin group and 22% of the Taxol plus curcumin group. However, in the other 2 groups, lung tumors had developed in 95% of the first (no treatment) group and 75% of the 2nd Taxol-only group.
A study in Munich as found that curcumin can prevent metastasis. It is well tolerated and can be used for both primary and secondary treatment of cancer. Both prostate and breast cancer can cause chronic inflammatory reactions and the tumor cells produce protein cytokines (CXCL1, CXCL2) and pro-inflammatory modulators. Turmeric has been able to decrease the expression of both these proteins and can reduce the metastatic potential of breast cancer cells. Controlled clinical tests are required before confirming curcumin’s benefits for humans.
Preventing cancer re-occurrence
Cancer stem cells often escape treatment and sometimes even after effective remission, cancer can re-occur due to these dormant stem cells forming new colonies. Most existing treatment like chemotherapy and radiation target active cancer cells and not stem cells. Hence, research has been going on, on different therapies to destroy stem cells. The effects of curcumin and piperine on breast cancer are being researched. Piperine is the active ingredient in black pepper. Combined together in food or dietary supplements, piperine and curcumin seem to be able to target and kill breast cancer stem cells. They also do not have toxic side effects and can be safely used. This combination seems to be more effective on non-estrogen sensitive breast cancer.
Turmeric in Diet
In Asian countries, the incidences of breast cancer are believed to be low since turmeric is used widely in Asian cuisine. Studies have been conducted in Atlanta, Georgia on the impact of curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric, on breast cancer. Pre-clinical breast cancer models were studied and promising results have emerged on the ability of curcumin to inhibit tumorigenesis (formation of tumors) and cancer cell proliferation. Curcumin is able to target vital genes that are responsible for apoptosis, angiogenesis, metastasis and cell cycle. The study reveals the therapeutic and chemopreventive abilities of curcumin in breast cancer models.
Sometimes breast cancer can be used by exposure to pesticides like DDT or endosulfane. Studies have been conducted on how a combination of genistein and curcumin tow natural products from soybeans and turmeric respectively can inhibit growth of MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Pesticides will always be present in our diet or the environment and it is not possible to completely avoid exposure to them. The results find that including soybeans and turmeric in our diet may prevent hormone-related cancers like breast cancer, caused due to exposure to such pesticides.
The dosage of turmeric depends on the medical condition and the supplement used. It is not recommended for children. For adults, the normal dosage is 400-600mg a day of standardized curcumin powder. The dosage for cut root, tincture, dried powdered root and fluid extracts are different. Turmeric can be combined with bromelain to improve its absorption rates and anti-inflammatory effects. 8g per day of curcumin for a limited period has been well tolerated in treatment of cancer as a prophylaxis and in women with a breast cancer family history.
The best way to include turmeric is to include it in your regular diet as a spice etc. You can find several recipes using turmeric over web and on this portal.
Turmeric used for cooking is absolutely safe for everyone to consume. The safety of curcumin used as supplements is still being investigated. Large doses of curcumin are required to treat cancer. Sometimes, taken over a long time, this could cause skin problems, indigestion, nausea or vomiting. To put things in perspective, these are very minor side effects as compared to potential side effects of anti-cancer drugs.
Anyone with diabetes, gall bladder problems or are pregnant or breastfeeding must avoid turmeric supplements. Turmeric can also react adversely with anti-coagulant drugs and medications to reduce stomach acid. It has been suggested that curcumin and piperine may inhibit action of chemotherapy or some cancer drugs. Hence, consult your doctor if you plan to include turmeric as a treatment for breast cancer.