Turmeric’s Orange Pigment Cut Painful, Itchy Dermatitis On Women’s Irradiated Breasts

Radiation or “radiotherapy” is a common treatment for breast cancer. Fortunately, radiation treatment of one breast does not appear to raise the risk of developing cancer in the other breast. But breast radiation often causes dermatitis … the painful, irritating rashes that afflict most radiotherapy patients and can force a premature halt to radiotherapy.

According to Paul Okunieff, M.D., of the University of Rochester’s Wilmot Cancer Center, “Nearly all cancer patients who get radiation treatment experience some form of skin damage – from mild sunburn all the way to blisters – that is painful for many. If we can find a simple way to help prevent that, it would make treatment a bit easier.”

New hope for reducing radiation-induced dermatitis comes from a clinical trial testing curcumin. Curcumin supplements contain the trio of polyphenol-type compounds that gives turmeric root – and turmeric-infused curry powder – its bright yellow-orange color. Lab experiments and preliminary clinical studies indicate that supplemental curcumin supports immune and brain health in uniquely powerful ways. The recent trial was prompted by an earlier animal study from researchers at the University of Rochester’s Wilmot Cancer Center.

Mouse Study Laid The Groundwork

Seven years ago, researchers from Wilmot Cancer Center (WCC) conducted a study in mice, to see whether dietary curcumin might protect skin from radiotherapy-induced burns and blisters (Okunieff P et al. 2006). A team of WCC researchers led by Ivan Ding, M.D., studied the impact of various doses of curcumin on the skin of mice with breast cancer that underwent radiotherapy. For the study, 200 mice with breast cancer were given three different doses of curcumin for five to seven days.

On the fifth day, mice were given a single dose of radiation and scientists waited 20 days to assess skin damage. The difference in skin damage was dramatic. “There were far fewer blisters or burns on the mice who had been given curcumin,” Ding said. Dr. Okunieff, chief of radiation oncology at WCC, added, “This is significant because skin damage is a real problem for patients undergoing radiation to treat their tumors. If a non-toxic, natural substance can help prevent this damage and enhance the effectiveness of our radiation, that’s a winning situation.”

The scientists also found that curcumin suppressed development of new cells in the area of tumor, thereby enhancing the effectiveness of radiation treatment.

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