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Breast Matters - Spicing Up Cancer Prevention

New and Improved Mammogram Technology
Issue No. 4

Spicing Up Cancer Prevention

Date: 06/02/2014


Sara Sukumar
Saraswati Sukumar

Like many cancer researchers focusing their efforts on preven­tion, Saraswati Sukumar regularly asks herself a pressing question: How do you create preventive therapies that are effective, safe and free of side effects long-term?

“Currently, oncologists do suggest measures for those at high risk of de­veloping breast cancers. Tamoxifen, for instance, is effective in preventing new breast cancers. But many women who take tamoxifen suffer menopausal symp­toms. Their quality of life declines as a result,” says Sukumar, a Johns Hopkins oncology professor and co-director of the Kimmel Center’s Breast Cancer Program. In response, she has turned her atten­tion to a spice commonly used in Indian households for everything from flavoring recipes to healing and beautifying skin.

The spice, turmeric, is used frequently in India to prepare curry and other native dishes. But in India, its uses don’t end in the kitchen. Turmeric’s active ingredi­ent, curcumin, has long been thought to possess an array of medicinal purposes. As Sukumar explains, it’s not uncom­mon to see young children in India with a turmeric-based paste on their skinned knees, a remedy believed to speed wound healing.

“People in India have used it for a long time, for small and large ailments,” Sukumar says.

Now, Sukumar is investigating in the laboratory curcumin’s possible cancer preventive properties. She recently began testing the substance in animals with the aim of determining whether curcumin, which possesses anti-inflammatory properties, will prevent the development of cancers. In mice and rats that develop mammary cancers, Sukumar will test daily doses of oral curcumin formulated in nanoparticles—doses too small for the human eye to see—to see if it stops cancers from appearing. Sample breast tissues from the animals will indicate whether curcumin reduces levels of inflammatory molecules that normally accompany cancer. If the studies show impressive preventive effects, Sukumar’s colleagues will consider testing curcumin in human clinical trials.

While it’s too early in Sukumar’s study to report results, she advocates adding turmeric to you your diet, as it may have many health benefits.

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