LONDON — A new UK study is investigating whether an extract of a curry spice can help patients with advanced bowel cancer battle their illness.
Scientists from the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre at the University of Leicester will study whether tablets containing curcumin -- found in the spice turmeric -- can be safely added to the standard treatment for bowel cancer .
Earlier studies have shown that curcumin can enhance the ability of chemotherapy to kill bowel cancer cells in the lab, according to Cancer Research UK, which funds the centre jointly with the National Institute for Health Research.
"Once bowel cancer has spread it is very difficult to treat, partly because the side effects of chemotherapy can limit how long patients can have treatment," said chief investigator William Steward, ECMC director..
"The prospect that curcumin might increase the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy is exciting because it could mean giving lower doses, so patients have fewer side effects and can keep having treatment for longer," he said.
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, and has been used for hundreds of years in many Indian, Persian and Thai dishes. Curcumin is the chemical that gives some drinks, sweets and foods -- notably curries and Jaffa cakes -- their bright colouring.
Around 40 patients with bowel cancer that has spread to the liver will be recruited to take part in the study at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Leicester General Hospital. Three quarters of these will be given curcumin tablets for seven days, before receiving Folfox, a combination of three chemotherapy drugs which is the usual treatment for patients with advanced bowel cancer. The other people will just be treated with FolFox.
Colin Carroll, a 62-year-old compliance consultant from near Loughborough, agreed to take part in the trial after being diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in January.
"The diagnosis came as a big shock because I?d had no symptoms apart from some occasional cramps," Carroll said.
Scans showed he in had bowel cancer which had spread to his liver and, three days after being admitted to Leicester Royal Infirmary, he underwent an emergency ileostomy.
Carroll will need to undergo chemotherapy until mid-August. "To have something creep up on you like that when you have absolutely no control over it really makes you want to fight back. That?s why I had no difficulty in agreeing to take part in the trial." he said.
Dr Joanna Reynolds, Cancer Research UK?s director of centres, said: "The Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres Network supports research into some of the most novel and exciting new anti-cancer therapies, often providing the first insights into their effect on cancer patients.
"By doing a clinical trial like this we will find out more about the potential benefits of taking large amounts of curcumin, as well as any possible side effects this could have for cancer patients."
The disease is the third most common form of cancer in the world, with an estimated 1.24 million people diagnosed with the condition -- which is also known as colorectal or colon cancer -- in 2008, according to Cancer Research UK.
The disease is also the second most common cause of cancer death in Britain, with around 16,000 people dying of bowel cancer in 2010.
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