Turmeric, with the active component curcumin, is both a food and a dietary supplement that may promote a better immune response and blood sugar levels, and may also help you manage some side effects of cancer.

How do experts use turmeric and curcumin?

Both medical groups and integrative experts provide recommendations for this therapy in treating people with cancer. Learn more about the approaches and meanings of recommendations.

Clinical practice guidelines

Society for Integrative Oncology

This set of guidelines has been endorsed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).1Lyman GH, Greenlee H et al. Integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment: ASCO endorsement of the SIO clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2018 Sep 1;36(25):2647-2655.

Clinical practice guidelines on the evidence-based use of integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment

The 2017 Society for Integrative Oncology clinical practice guidelines regarding breast cancer patients state that insufficient evidence is available for recommending curcumin for radiation therapy-induced toxicity outcomes. Similarly, insufficient evidence is available for recommending curcuminoids for quality of life or vasomotor outcomes such as hot flashes.

Researchers from these organizations found insufficient evidence to recommend curcumin to treat oral mucositisinflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract, usually as an adverse effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancer.

Published protocols, programs, and approaches

Turmeric or curcumin is used in programs, approaches and protocols a package of therapies combining and preferably integrating various therapies and practices into a cohesive design for care from these integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan oncologists, drawing from both scientific research and observations from years or even decades of treating people with cancer.

Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, and Karolyn Gazella

Approaches are described for certain cancer types, or along with certain conventional therapy treatments, or for particular conditions such as insulin resistance.

Uses of turmeric and curcumin:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Detoxification
  • Immune enhancement
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Radiation sensitizer

Keith Block, MD

Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Care. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.

The integrative Block Program has recommendations to people who are at different places along the cancer continuum:

  • Those who’ve been recently diagnosed
  • Those in treatment
  • Those who’ve concluded treatment and need to remain vigilant to prevent recurrence

Uses of turmeric and curcumin:

  • Anti-inflammatory terrain modifier
  • Coagulation terrain modifier
  • Surgical support program (wound healing)
  • Radiation support program
    (mucositis inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract, usually as an adverse effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancer)
  • Post-treatment program (targeting cancer progression pathways)
  • Rehabilitation program (reducing inflammatory response)
  • Targeted molecular therapies
  • Chemopreventive (breast, colon and pancreatic cancers, melanoma)
  • As a targeted therapy when other treatment isn’t working

Gerald Lemole, MD; Pallav Mehta, MD; and Dwight McKee, MD

Lemole GM, Mehta PK, McKee DL. After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients with Cancer. New York, New York: Rodale, Inc. 2015.

These doctors present easy-to-incorporate lifestyle changes to help you “turn on” hundreds of genes that fight cancer, and “turn off” the ones that encourage cancer, while recommending lifestyle approaches to address each type.

Uses of turmeric and curcumin:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Melanoma
  • Prostate cancer
  • Renal (kidney) cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

Barbara MacDonald, ND, LAc

MacDonald B. The Breast Cancer Companion—A Complementary Care Manual: Third Edition. Self-published. 2016.

Naturopathic physician Barbara MacDonald provides information about breast cancer, its conventional treatment, and natural approaches to enhancing treatment, managing side effects, reducing risk of recurrence, and healthy living after cancer treatment is completed.

Marsden Centre

Lee B. Colorectal Cancer: FOLFOX/FOLFIRI and Supportive natural therapies. Marsden Centre for Excellence in Integrative Medicine.

This protocol from Becky Lee, ND, provides information regarding combining FOLFOX/FOLFIRI and supportive natural therapies in treating colorectal cancer.

Uses of turmeric and curcumin during treatment with folinic acid, fluorouracil, and oxaliplatin (FOLFOX) for colorectal cancer.

Neil McKinney, BSc, ND

McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, Fourth Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2020.

This book includes descriptions and uses of many natural and complementary protocols for cancer in general and for specific cancers. It also includes information on integrative support during conventional cancer treatment.

Uses of turmeric and curcumin:

  • General cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Brain/nerve cancer
  • Carcinoid/neuroendocrine cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Liver cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Melanoma
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Sarcoma
  • Stomach cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

Also used in Bastyr University Integrative Oncology Research Center protocol for stage IV breast cancer

Gurdev Parmar, ND, FABNO, and Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO

Parmar G, Kaczor T. Textbook of Naturopathic Oncology: A Desktop Guide of Integrative Cancer Care. 1st edition. Medicatrix Holdings Ltd. 2020.

This book provides information on the treatment of 24 cancers, plus the most effective treatments of the most common symptoms affecting cancer patients while they undergo chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery.

Uses of turmeric and curcumin:

  • Brain cancer (primary)
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Lymphoma (Hodgkins and non-Hodgkin)
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Lung cancer (non small cell)
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

Other recommendations

This 2014 book by integrative medicine experts and CancerChoices advisors describes a wide variety of complementary interventions to conventional cancer care, including a chapter from the perspective of a cancer patient. Abrams & Weil state that curcumin is among the botanicals most commonly used by oncology naturopathic physicians for colorectal cancer. Based on safety and scientific evidence, most naturopathic physicians include curcumin/turmeric in their core protocol a package of therapies combining and preferably integrating various therapies and practices into a cohesive design for care for reducing the risk of cancer relapse in people who have received primary conventional treatment.

The Moss Reports conclude that curcumin is effective in reducing inflammation. Curcumin (and turmeric) is listed in their “Green Light Treatments: Well Researched Approaches.”2Moss R. The Moss Report on Breast Cancer. 2017-2.0. p. 1.

Traditional medicine

Turmeric or curcumin is used in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.

Learn more about traditional medicine and how to find practitioners.

Dosing

Dosage has not been standardized for use in cancer care, but recommendations are available from these sources as well as the published programs and approaches listed above:

Solutions 4 Health

Recommendations based on the book After Cancer Care;3Lemole G, Mehta P, McKee D. After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients with Cancer. New York, New York: Rodale, Inc. 2015.

Lao CD, Ruffin MT 4th et al. Dose escalation of a curcuminoid formulation. BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies. 2006 Mar 17;6:10.

General information about dosing

Find general dosing guidelines regarding natural products and supplements.

Expert commentary

Uses of piperine

CancerChoices advisor Dr. Andrew Weil advises: “Neither curcumin nor turmeric taken orally is well absorbed unless taken with black pepper or piperine, a constituent of black pepper responsible for its pungency. When shopping for supplements, make sure that the one you choose contains black pepper extract or piperine.”4Weil A. Curcumin or Turmeric? November 1, 2016. Viewed January 12, 2018. However, both Dr. Weil and naturopathic oncologist Lise Alschuler, another CancerChoices advisor, caution that use of piperine may interact with a wide range of prescription medications. Dr. Alschuler does not advise long-term use of piperine.5Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010 p. 115.

Lack of effect with dietary portions

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, January 23, 2018: The vast majority of studies on turmeric/curcumin have been in cell studies and rodent studies, and mostly with amounts that are unlikely to be consumed in humans who simply use turmeric as a culinary spice. Human studies are really limited.

I’ve seen one human study show reductions in TNF-alpha (the inflammatory signaling protein) with only 150 mg of curcumin/day—but I’m not sure how to translate the TNF-alpha change as to whether it was clinically significant. Other studies I’ve seen and as reviewed in the Natural Medicines Database tend to use 1000 to 4000 mg/day of curcumin (and some studies use much more).

Interaction with tamoxifen

CancerChoices advisors Gwen Stritter, MD, and Jen Green, ND, FABNO, write of the impact of curcumin on tamoxifen effectiveness, May 9, 2019: Many are aware that tamoxifen is what we call a pro-drug. A pro-drug is ineffective until specific enzymes in your body activate it. Tamoxifen is metabolized to endoxifen, the effective drug that prevents ER+ breast cancer patients from relapse.

An enzyme called CYP2D6 is responsible for the magic that changes tamoxifen to endoxifen. The activity of this enzyme varies from individual to individual. Part of the variance is due to genetics—some people are born with hyperactive CYP2D6; others have an enzyme that is very sluggish. Many medications—antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) and citalopram (Celexa) amongst a host of others—as well as assorted foods and dietary supplements can either activate or slow down CYP2D6.

When this information first started causing a stir in the breast cancer world roughly 10 years ago, researchers hypothesized that taking tamoxifen with a CYP2D6 inhibitor would cause an increase in breast cancer relapse. As it turned out, further clinical research did not bolster this theory,6Mayer SE, Weiss NS et al. CYP2D6-inhibiting medication use and inherited CYP2D6 variation in relation to adverse breast cancer outcomes after tamoxifen therapy. Cancer Causes Control. 2019 Jan;30(1):103-112. leading to a new one: genetics, drugs and dietary intake have complex interactions with the body’s enzyme system. They activate some enzymes and inhibit others. This results in a variable net effect on the concentration of important drugs. In a 2016 study, the cause of low endoxifen levels could not be identified over 50% of the time.7Fox P, Balleine RL et al. Dose escalation of tamoxifen in patients with low endoxifen level: evidence for therapeutic drug monitoring-the TADE study. Clinical Cancer Research. 2016 Jul 1;22(13):3164-71.

Because such a complex system is difficult to study, researchers turned away from looking at just CYP2D6 and are focusing on the endoxifen level itself (ignoring the middleman). In one study, researchers in the Netherlands gave tamoxifen with or without curcumin 1200 mg three times a day. The group taking tamoxifen in combination with curcumin had about an 8% decrease in endoxifen levels. If the curcumin was compounded with piperine (often done to substantially improve curcumin absorption), endoxifen levels were further decreased by 12%.8Hussaarts KGAM, Hurkmans DP et al. Impact of curcumin (with or without piperine) on the pharmacokinetics of tamoxifen. Cancers (Basel). 2019 Mar 22;11(3). pii: E403.

Although an 8–12% reduction doesn’t seem like much, if your genetics and/or dietary habits result in levels of endoxifen just barely in the effective range, the addition of curcumin, and especially with piperidine, could tip the scales in favor of breast cancer growth. The authors of this paper conclude: “co-treatment with curcumin could lower endoxifen concentrations below the threshold for efficacy (potentially 20–40% of the patients).”

Do keep in mind that this was a very small study, only 16 patients. However, these results are in line with previous lab and animal research so should not be discounted. On the other hand, curcumin supplementation has documented beneficial effects: decreased depression,9Sanmukhani J, Satodia V et al. Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Phytotherapy Research. 2014 Apr;28(4):579-85. anti-inflammatory effects10Panahi Y, Saadat A, Beiraghdar F, Sahebkar A. Adjuvant therapy with bioavailability-boosted curcuminoids suppresses systemic inflammation and improves quality of life in patients with solid tumors: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Phytotherapy Research. 2014 Oct;28(10):1461-7. and lowered cholesterol,11Qin S, Huang L et al. Efficacy and safety of turmeric and curcumin in lowering blood lipid levels in patients with cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrition Journal. 2017 Oct 11;16(1):68. to name a few.

The bottom line: if you are taking curcumin with tamoxifen, ask your integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan practitioner if s/he could substitute another supplement. If not, then request to have your endoxifen levels checked, both before and a month after starting curcumin. Quest Diagnostics, a very reputable lab, offers a “tamoxifen and metabolites” blood test.

Keep reading about turmeric and curcumin

Authors

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Dr. Ryan is a research associate for CancerChoices. She is a licensed and board certified naturopathic physician and acupuncturist in Oregon. Dr. Ryan is the founder of Gentle Natural Wellness, a clinic specializing in bridging classical Chinese medicine with naturopathic medicine to provide individualized, compassionate care for people in the community. A Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine and Master of Science in Oriental Medicine with honors from the National University of Natural Medicine, research in medical anthropology at the University of Hawai’i and George Mason University, language and culture programs at Obirin University (Tokyo) and Sogang University (Seoul), and studies of Chinese herbal medicine and qigong in China have provided a diverse background that has helped form a foundation for her community health and healing path.

Emily Ryan, ND, MSOM, LAc Research Associate

Reviewer

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: October 7, 2022

Last full literature review: October 2021

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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