Skin cancer is the malignancy in the different types of cells of the outer covering of the human body, the skin.
The types of cells in the skin in which cancer may develop are the basal cells, squamous cells or the melanocytes (melanin-producing cells).
The basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer are classified as non-melanoma skin cancer, while the cancer in melanocytes is called melanoma.
Non-melanoma is more common and easy to treat while melanoma is rare but a dangerous form.
Melanoma form often spreads to other parts of the body, if not diagnosed early. It may also arise from pre-cancerous moles present on the body.
Skin cancer generally forms on face, head, neck, hands, and arms.
It is mostly caused by exposure to the sun.
The Ultra-Violet (UV) radiations from the sun damage the DNA of the skin cells which may gradually develop into cancer.
The common symptoms of skin cancer are the presence of sore or ulcer that does not heal within a month, scaly and itchy brown patch on the skin, moles whose appearance change and appearance of the white & waxy lump.
The risk factors for skin cancer besides exposure to the sun include having light skin and freckles, old age, severe sunburns, family history, presence of a number of large and thick moles, and using UV tanning beds.
People with certain skin diseases such as Xeroderma pigmentosum, Psoriasis are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer.
Weak immunity and exposure to carcinogens like coal, tar, arsenic, etc and radiations like radium also increase the risk of skin cancer.
Depending upon the severity and type of skin cancer, the treatment strategy is adopted. Chemotherapy (topical or oral), radiotherapy, surgery or immune-therapy is common treatment options.
The treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy have many side-effects such as skin irritation, blistering, change in skin colour, acne, increased sensitivity to the sun, hair loss, etc.
In the case of oral chemotherapy, the side-effects like fatigue, nausea, increased risk of infection are common.
The natural remedies are considered to avoid these side-effects and to improve the effectiveness of treatment for skin cancer.
Owing to its wide range of medicinal properties, turmeric is a good candidate for the natural remedy of skin cancer.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric, a popular spice used for its flavour and colour, is obtained from the plant Curcuma longa. It belongs to the family Zingiberaceae.
Besides its culinary application, it is used as a dyeing agent and in cosmetics. It is also a very important ingredient for traditional medicine.
Turmeric has long been used as an analgesic and antiseptic. It possesses a number of other medicinal properties that have attracted a lot of research in recent times.
The properties such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-modulatory, and anti-cancer are present in turmeric by the virtue of its bioactive compounds.
The most bio-active compound identified in turmeric is the curcuminoids, especially curcumin.
The other compounds that makeup turmeric are volatile oils, α-linolenic acid, omega fatty acids, Vitamins (B&C), minerals (Sodium, Potassium, Iron etc), proteins, dietary fibres, carbohydrates etc.
6 Surprising Benefits of Turmeric in Skin Cancer
The anti-cancer property of turmeric is of immense value against various types of cancer. The potential of turmeric against skin cancer is great, starting from the prevention to the treatment. Moreover, it has additional benefits against the side-effects of conventional treatment methods.
1. Turmeric kills skin cancer cells
The abnormalities in the cells of skin due to various factors lead to the development of cancer.
The treatment involves the killing of these cells by various therapies which work by interfering in many molecular pathways.
Turmeric is a natural agent which works in the same way. Many studies have highlighted its ability to induce death in the cancer cells.
The role of oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory factors is central to the development of skin cancer.
Curcumin, the chief component of turmeric is known to induce apoptosis or cell death in both the types of skin cancer, i.e. non-melanoma and melanoma.
In the case of human basal cell carcinoma (a non-melanoma skin cancer), curcumin induces apoptosis by increasing levels of p53 protein (a pro-apoptotic protein).
In the case of melanoma cells, curcumin-induced cell death by increasing the expressions of various pro-apoptotic factors like Bax, p38, and p53. It also inhibited the activation of anti-apoptotic factors like Bcl-2 and Mcl-1.
Curcumin is also known to modulate microRNAs which are involved in cell cycle regulation and apoptosis.
What does it mean?
It means turmeric can be used in the treatment of skin cancer. It induces apoptosis in both the non-melanoma and melanoma cells by interfering in various molecular pathways.
2. Turmeric inhibits angiogenesis and tumor growth
The development of blood vessels or angiogenesis is involved in the growth of skin cancer, like the other cancers.
The various angiogenic factors such as, VEGF (Vascular endothelial growth factor) are found to be elevated in the tumours.
VEGF is considered to play a very important role in the development of skin cancer.
Inhibition of angiogenesis is seen as an effective way of treating skin cancer.
The turmeric compound, curcumin is a potent inhibitor of angiogenesis. It inhibits various molecules of the signal transduction pathways involved in the angiogenesis process.
Curcumin application on squamous cell carcinoma is found to result in reduced tumour progression by inhibition of MTOR pathway (involved in cancer proliferation by regulating cell cycle).
Its ability to prevent the invasion of cancer is also evident in melanoma. Curcumin suppressed proteins involved in Akt, MTOR and P70S6K signalling pathways that are involved in cancer progression.
What does it mean?
It means application of turmeric can inhibit angiogenesis and suppress tumour progression. The inhibition of various signalling pathways involved in angiogenesis and tumour progression by curcumin is responsible for the effectiveness of turmeric in this.
3. Turmeric boosts the immune system to fight skin cancer
The role of the immune system is integral to the development of skin cancer. A suppressed immune system is known to be related to the skin cancer. UV exposure leads to dysfunction of certain cells of the immune system like T cells, eventually causing immune-suppression.
The immune system can control cancer by identifying them from normal cells and then destroying them.
Immune-therapy, i.e. boosting the immune system is considered another viable treatment approach towards the treatment of skin cancer.
Curcumin, the major turmeric constituent is known for its immune-modulatory action on various aspects of the immune system.
It boosts the immunity by regulating activation of immune cells (T-cells, B cells) which enables the body to fight various immunity-related diseases, including skin cancer.
What does it mean?
It means consumption of turmeric can boost the immunity of the body. The modulation of immune cells by curcumin enhances the capacity of the body to fight the skin cancer through better immune responses.
4. Turmeric protects from UV radiation and other carcinogens
The primary cause of skin cancer is ultra-violet (UV) radiation from the sun. UV rays damage the skin cells to cause cancer by causing mutations in their DNA as well as through immune-suppression.
Many environmental pollutants act as carcinogens for skin cancer. Skin is readily exposed to these carcinogens such as benzene, ozone, heavy metals (eg. arsenic, lead), which may lead to skin cancer.
A number of herbal compounds are known to protect the skin from UV ray, including turmeric. Its antioxidant activity prevents the damage caused by UV radiations by scavenging the free radicals. Its anti-inflammatory action also helps in this.
In a study, turmeric extract application on skin has shown the protective effect against the damages caused by UV exposure.
Turmeric is known to prevent chemical-induced skin tumors as well.
In a study, dietary administration of turmeric significantly suppressed the skin tumours induced by a chemical DMBA (dimethylbenzanthracene).
The essential oil of turmeric prevents mutations caused by chemical mutagens like sodium azide, nitrophenylenediamene (NPD) etc.
Turmeric is also shown its protective action against the damages caused by arsenic in the body. Curcumin reduces the oxidative stress caused by arsenic and protects from DNA damage.
What does it mean?
It means use of turmeric can protect the body from the physical and chemical agents that can cause skin cancer. Turmeric prevents the damage caused by UV rays and other carcinogens to the skin cells by its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action.
5. Turmeric protects from the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy
The major therapies employed for the treatment of skin cancer are chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These therapies are known to cause mild to severe side-effects.
5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) is a chemotherapeutic drug which is used both, orally or topically in the treatment of skin cancer.
Oral 5-FU causes severe toxicities to the heart, intestine and nervous system. Its topical application is also known to cause skin irritation and infections.
Many studies have proven the beneficial effect of turmeric against these toxicities. Curcumin is known to protect the intestines from the damage caused by 5-FU treatment.
Imiquimod is an immune-modulator used in the treatment of skin cancer. It is known to induce psoriasis-like condition.
The application of curcumin gel significantly reduces the inflammation induced by imiquimod, due to its anti-inflammatory action.
Radiotherapy is also known to cause side-effects such as radiodermatitis. Application of turmeric based cream on the skin ameliorates the condition and also reduces itching and pain.
What does it mean?
It means consumption of turmeric and its topical application can protect against a number of mild to severe side-effects caused by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
6. Topical turmeric is as good as dietary turmeric in skin cancer
The dietary use of turmeric is well-known for its anti-cancer activities in numerous types of cancers. In skin cancer as well, dietary consumption of turmeric displays its protective effects.
Dietary antioxidants prevent the damage to skin cells by quenching the free radical generated by exposure to UV rays or other carcinogens.
Curcumin from turmeric works in the same manner and prevents tumour progression on the skin.
Nowadays, the topical application of turmeric is also employed in the skin cancer treatment which has proven to be efficacious.
A study was conducted to compare the efficiencies of the dietary and topical curcumin in a skin cancer model. It was observed that the topical curcumin was equally effective as the dietary curcumin in suppressing the tumour growth on the skin.
What does it mean?
It means for the treatment of skin cancer, topical use of turmeric is as effective as the dietary turmeric. So, turmeric paste or turmeric based ointments, gels or creams can be used to treat the skin cancer.
Dosage of Turmeric for Skin cancer
The dietary use of turmeric is highly beneficial in preventing all types of cancer. For skin cancer, turmeric can be used in diet as well as for the topical application.
The main bio-active component of turmeric, i.e. curcumin has poor bioavailability. Therefore, it should be mixed with black pepper and/or healthy fats such as coconut oil to improve its absorption by the body. (Read How to improve turmeric’s bioavailability?)
High dosage of curcumin is needed for the cancer treatment. Therefore, the use of turmeric supplements is recommended. A dose schedule can be followed by skin cancer patients from the article Turmeric/ Curcumin Dosage for Cancer: A Scientific Plan.
Turmeric intake should be started off with lower doses (1/4-1/2 teaspoon per day for a week) and can be elevated gradually over a few weeks to 2-3 teaspoons per day, if no side-effects are detected.
Turmeric supplements and Golden Paste may cause acid reflux if taken in on an empty stomach. (Read Does turmeric cause acid reflux?)
Turmeric supplement consumption is not recommended at the same time as other medicines because it can interact with certain medications. A gap of at least 3-4 hours is necessary to be maintained between the two. (Read Black pepper in GP: Does it cause drug interaction?)
If not taking Golden Paste or turmeric supplements, turmeric intake is highly valuable in the regular diet to prevent and treat skin cancer.
Turmeric powder or fresh root can be used in soups, rice dishes, smoothies, curries or other dishes. Half-an-inch of fresh turmeric root or its juice is also a good way of taking in turmeric.
Topical use of turmeric for skin cancer
Turmeric can be applied topically by the skin cancer patients on the affected areas of the skin.
A patch test should be conducted prior to the use. If no side-effects are observed turmeric can be applied regularly.
For the topical application, turmeric powder should be mixed with oil, preferably coconut or olive oil. After applying this mixture on the affected area, it should be left for at least 30 minutes and the areas can be covered with gauze, if needed.
This should be repeated 2-3 times a day for best results.
Some good brands of organic turmeric can be found at our recommendation on best organic turmeric brands.
- Avoid in pregnancy and lactation
- Avoid if suffering from gall bladder obstruction
- Avoid if suffering from a bleeding disorder
- Discontinue prior to surgery
Avoid taking turmeric on an empty stomach to avoid acid reflux symptoms. (Does turmeric cause acid reflux?)
If suffering from a bleeding disorder, small doses of turmeric in diet are safe but it is best to consult a doctor before taking turmeric or turmeric supplements in this case. (Is turmeric a blood thinner?)
A general precaution is outlined that turmeric may have drug interactions with stomach acid reducing medication, antidepressants, blood sugar reducing drugs etc. Curcumin found in turmeric is known to interfere in drug metabolism. Hence it is advised not to take curcumin supplements concomitantly with any other medicine.
Consult a health practitioner before taking turmeric supplements for skin cancer.
Turmeric is an extremely beneficial natural product against skin cancer.
Its diverse biological properties not only can treat the different types of skin cancer but also can prevent their occurrence.
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action of turmeric checks the damages caused to the skin cells by a number of carcinogens, most notably the UV radiation that has potential of causing cancer.
Moreover, turmeric protects the body from various side-effects caused by conventional treatments against skin cancer.
Furthermore, the topical and dietary turmeric are equally efficacious and thus, provide diversity for turmeric use against skin cancer.