Adding Spice Protects Skin from Radiation Harm

Aug. 7, 2013

curcuminInvestigators are widely studying curcumin for possible anti-cancer activity, and now the URMC has discovered that it also helps to reduce peeling, weepy, skin damage during radiation treatment for breast cancer.

Julie Ryan, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of Dermatology, has a paper in the journal Radiation Research showing that 88 percent of patients who did not take curcumin experienced serious skin problems, compared to only 29 percent of patient who did take curcumin. The natural product is the main ingredient in the spice turmeric, giving it a bright yellow hue. A powerful antioxidant, curcumin is an anti-inflammatory and thought to spur cancer-cell death while promoting the health of non-cancerous cells.

In a pilot study of 30 women, investigators closely monitored the patients for radiation-induced skin changes during four-to-seven weeks of therapy. Curcumin did not completely prevent all symptoms. It did not reduce redness, for example, and did not alleviate the symptoms of women who had a total mastectomy. But most patients showed significantly fewer serious skin problems.  And the study is important because 95 percent of patients receiving radiation get some degree of skin dermatitis – and yet no standard prevention therapy exists, other than soap and water and moisturizer.

Patients were required to swallow 6 grams daily (the equivalent of 12 capsules) of curcumin. The next step is to look at other synthetic forms, which might provide the same benefits while making it easier for patients to use. (Head and neck cancer patients cannot swallow capsules.) Topical forms are also being studied.

Prevention magazine reported on Ryan’s work:

To read the scientific abstract: