Curcumin: New insights into an ancient ingredient against cancer

Ella Willenbacher, Shah Zeb Khan, Sara Cecilia Altuna Mujica, Dario Trapani, Sadaqat Hussain, Dominik Wolf, Wolfgang Willenbacher, Gilbert Spizzo, Andreas Seeber

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Cancer patients frequently use complementary medicine. Curcumin (CUR) and its derivates (from the extract of Curcuma longa L.) represent some of the most frequently used ones, having a long history in traditional Asian medicine. CUR was demonstrated, both in vitro and in vivo, to have significant anti-inflammatory effects, thus potentially counteracting cancer-promoting inflammation, which is a hallmark of cancer. CUR modulate a plethora of signaling pathways in cancer cells, comprising the NF-κB (nuclear factor k-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells), the JAK/STAT (Janus-Kinase/Signal Transducers and Activators of Transcription), and the TGF-β (transforming growth factor-β) pathways. Furthermore, CUR confers properties of electron receptors, which destabilize radical oxygen species (ROS), explaining its antioxidant and anti-apopototic effects. Although CUR has a low bioavailability, its role in advanced cancer treatment and supportive care was addressed in numerous clinical trials. After promising results in phase I–II trials, multiple phase III trials in different indications are currently under way to test for direct anti-cancer effects. In addition, CUR exerts beneficial effects on cancer treatment-related neurotoxcity, cardiotoxicity, nephrotoxicity, hemato-toxicity, and others. More efficient galenic formulations are tested to optimze CUR’s usability in cancer treatment. This review should provide a comprehensive overview of basic science, and pre-clinical and clinical data on CUR in the field of oncology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1808
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2 2019


  • Anti-inflamation
  • Antioxidants
  • Cancer treatment
  • Complementary medicine
  • Curcumin
  • Supportive care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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