Lead author Dr. Marilene Wang, a professor of head and neck surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles and of UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center, says the spice widely used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, especially curry, has been known to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
"We knew that both the curcumin and the Cisplatin, when given alone, had an effect against head and neck cancers," Wang says in a statement.
The two agents use different growth signaling pathways, which suggest potential for the clinical use of sub-therapeutic doses of Cisplatin in combination with curcumin, which may allow effective suppression of tumor growth while minimizing the toxic side effects of the drug, Wang says.
The next step is to give patients oral curcumin before and after surgery and study the tumors to determine curcumin's effect on tumor markers. Next, the team would give curcumin to patients to see if the mouse result can be replicated in humans.
Turmeric is used in cooking, but the amount needed for clinical response is much larger, about 500 milligrams so expecting a positive effect through eating foods spiced with turmeric is not realistic, the researchers warn.
However, curcumin has shown to have suppressive effect on breast, colon and pancreatic cancers and perhaps Alzheimer's disease, the researchers add.
The findings are published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.