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 can turmeric and curcumin help me? What the research says

We summarize the clinical evidence for each medical benefit here. We begin with our assessment of the strength of evidence within each category, followed by a brief summary of individual studies or reviews of several studies. In assessing the strength of evidence, we consider the study design, number of participants, and the size of the treatment effect (how much outcomes changed with treatment).

Learn more about how we research and rate therapies and practices.

Improving treatment outcomes

Is turmeric or curcumin linked to improved survival? Is it linked to less cancer growth or metastasis? Does it enhance the anticancer action of other treatments or therapies? We present the evidence.

Advanced cancer

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of slower disease progression and better survival from FOLFOX treatment among people with metastatic colorectal cancer treated with curcumin

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better tumor response to chemotherapy among women with advanced and metastatic breast cancer treated with curcumin

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of treatment response (no disease progression) during docetaxel treatment among people with advanced or metastatic breast cancer treated with oral curcumin

Weak evidence of response to docetaxel treatment among men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer treated with curcumin

Colorectal cancer

Preliminary evidence of better tumor markers and greater cancer cell cell death among people with colorectal cancer treated with curcumin before surgery

Gynecological cancer

Weak evidence of treatment response (no progression and instances of regression) among people with cervical neoplasia subsequent to antimicrobial therapy treated with turmeric

Leukemia

Preliminary evidence of a lower cancer marker during imatinib treatment among people with leukemia treated with turmeric powder

Multiple myeloma

Weak evidence of comparable progression-free survival to dexamethasone during treatment with an immunomodulatory drug or proteasome inhibitor among people with multiple myeloma treated with curcumin

Prostate cancer

Preliminary evidence of slower prostate-specific antigen (PSA)a protein produced by both normal and malignant cells of the prostate gland; the blood level of PSA is often elevated in men with prostate cancer progression but no evidence of an effect on survival during intermittent androgen deprivation among people with prostate cancer treated with curcumin

Curcumin as part of combination therapies

Preliminary evidence of slower disease progression rate during treatment with leucovorin, 5-fluorouracil, and oxaliplatin among people with metastatic colorectal cancer treated with MB-6

Preliminary evidence of less diabetic peripheral neuropathydamage to the peripheral nerves outside the brain and spinal cord among people treated with DiVFuSS formulation

Optimizing your body terrain

Does turmeric or curcumin promote an environment within your body that is less supportive of cancer development, growth, or spread? We present the evidence.

Blood sugar and insulin resistance

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed RCTs, or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity among people with impaired glucose tolerance or polycystic ovary syndrome treated with curcumin

Hormone imbalance

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence in one direction (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better sex hormone balance among women treated with curcumin

Immune function

Preliminary evidence of better immune response among people with advanced colon cancer treated with curcumin

Inflammation

Modest evidence of lower inflammation among people treated with curcumin, not specific to people with cancer

Oxidation

Preliminary evidence of less oxidative stressan imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body; this imbalance can cause harmful oxidation reactions in your body chemistry among people treated with curcumin

Other terrain factors

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of down-regulated P-STAT-3—a signaling pathway that drives cancer aggressiveness in some types of blood cells—among people with advanced pancreatic cancer treated with curucmin

Curcumin as part of combination therapies

Preliminary evidence of lower levels of insulin and other measures of insulin function among adults with impaired fasting glucose treated with a combination therapy of Lagerstroemia speciosa, Berberis aristata, Curcuma longa, alpha-lipoic acid, chromium picolinate and folic acid

Preliminary evidence of lower early-follicular phase androgens but no evidence of substantial effects on estrogen measures among healthy premenopausal women with turmeric (Curcuma longa), artichoke (Cynara scolymus), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), magnolia berry (Schisandra chinensis), milk thistle (Silybum marinum), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis)

Weak evidence of lower markers of inflammation during treatment predominantly with aromatase inhibitors among postmenopausal women with breast cancer with elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) with hydroxytyrosol, omega-3 fatty acids, and curcumin

Managing side effects and promoting wellness

Is turmeric or curcumin linked to fewer or less severe side effects or symptoms? Is it linked to less toxicity from cancer treatment? Does it support your quality of life or promote general well-being? We present the evidence.

Body composition or cachexia

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed RCTs, or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of an increase in body weight or less unintentional weight loss among people with cancer treated with curcumin

Fatigue

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less fatigue resulting from chemotherapy among women with advanced and metastatic breast cancer treated with curcumin

Gastrointestinal effects

No evidence of an effectoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. on bowel symptoms during radiotherapy among men with prostate cancer treated with curcumin in a preliminary study

Oral symptoms

Modest evidence of lower incidence or less severe oral mucositis inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract, usually as an adverse effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancer among people treated mostly with topical turmeric or curcumin

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less burning and intolerance to spicy food among people with a precancerous oral submucous condition treated with either curcumin or turmeric

Pain

Weak evidence of less pain among people with precancerous oral conditions treated with curcumin or turmeric

Quality of life

Preliminary evidence of better quality of life during chemotherapy among people treated with curcumin

No evidence of an effect on quality of life during intermittent androgen deprivation among men with prostate cancer treated with curcumin in a preliminary study

Sexual difficulties

No evidence of an effect on sexual function among men with localized prostate cancer treated with curcumin in a preliminary study

Other side effects and symptoms

Preliminary evidence of less severe urinary symptoms, including urination frequency, during radiotherapy among men with prostate cancer treated with curcumin

Preliminary evidence of less radiation dermatitis among people with cancer treated with with oral curcumin or topical turmeric

Weak evidence of less odor and itching among people with external cancerous lesions treated with turmeric and curcumin

Side effects and symptoms not specific to people with cancer

Preliminary evidence of less anxiety among people with major depressive disorder treated with curcumin

Preliminary evidence of better measures of osteoarthritis and physical performance among people with osteoarthritis treated with Meriva

Modest evidence of lower incidence of depression among people with major depressive disorder treated with curcumin

Curcumin as part of combination therapies

Preliminary evidence of widespread symptom relief during chemotherapy or radiotherapy among people treated with Meriva (curcumin formulation), soy lecithin, and microcrystalline cellulose

Preliminary evidence of fewer serious side effects and during treatment with leucovorin, 5-fluorouracil, and oxaliplatin among people with metastatic colorectal cancer treated with MB-6

Weak evidence of less pain during treatment predominantly with aromatase inhibitors among people treated with hydroxytyrosol, omega-3 fatty acids, and curcumin

Weak evidence of less severe oral mucositis during chemo/radiotherapy among people treated with a preparation of Indian gooseberry (amla), holy basil (tulsi), and curcumin added to zinc oxide

Weak evidence of fewer and smaller polyps among people with familial adenomatous polyposis treated with curcumin and quercetin

Reducing cancer risk

Is turmeric or curcumin linked to lower risks of developing cancer or of recurrence? We present the evidence.

Bladder cancer

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of improvement in precancerous lesions among people with bladder cancer treated with curcumin

Colorectal cancer

No evidence of an effectoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. on the number or size of polyps among people with familial adenomatous polyposis treated with curcumin in a preliminary study

Weak evidence of fewer aberrant crypt foci (ACF) among people who smoke and were treated with curcumin

Gastrointestinal cancer

Weak evidence of precancerous lesion response among people with intestinal metaplasia of the stomach treated with curcumin

Gynecological cancer

Weak evidence of improvement in precancerous lesions among people with cervical intraepithelial neoplasm treated with curcumin

Head, neck, and oral cancers

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of improvement or lack of progression of among people with head, neck, and oral precancerous conditions treated with either turmeric or curcumin

Lung cancer

Weak evidence of fewer mutagens in the urine of people who smoke and are treated with turmeric

Melanoma and other skin cancers

Weak evidence of precancerous lesion response among people with Bowen’s disease treated with curcumin

Multiple myeloma

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence in one direction (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less progression towards multiple myeloma among people with monoclonal gammopathy of undefined significance (MGUS) treated with curcumin

Prostate cancer

Weak evidence of lower PSAa protein produced by both normal and malignant cells of the prostate gland; the blood level of PSA is often elevated in men with prostate cancer levels among men with high levels without a cancer diagnosis treated with curcumin

Curcumin as part of combination complementary therapies

Preliminary evidence of decreasing PSA levels among men with high PSA levels treated with isoflavones and curcumin

Resources

TRC Natural Medicines

Subscription required; in-depth information, ratings of effectiveness and safety and evaluation of specific turmeric and curcumin products

Turmeric

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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