Introduction: Chemoprevention strategies are very attractive and have earned serious consideration as potential means of controlling the incidence of cancer. An important element of anticancer drug development using plants is the accumulation and analysis of pertinent experimental data and purported ethnomedical (folkloric) uses for plants. The aim of this review is to provide an updated overview of experimental in vitro and in vivo investigations focused on the anticancer activity of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and its principal ingredients. Potential use of these natural agents in cancer therapy and chemopreventive trials are also discussed.
Methods: A computerized search of published articles was performed using the MEDLINE database from 1990 to 2004. Search terms utilized including saffron, carotenoids, chemoprevention, and cancer. All articles were obtained as reprints from their original authors. Additional sources were identified through cross-referencing.
Results: Studies in animal models and with cultured human malignant cell lines have demonstrated antitumor and cancer preventive activities of saffron and its main ingredients, possible mechanisms for these activities are discussed. More direct evidence of anticancer effectiveness of saffron as chemopreventive agent may come from trials that use actual reduction of cancer incidence as the primary endpoint
Conclusions: This work suggests that future research be warranted that will define the possible use of saffron as effective anticancer and chemopreventive agent in clinical trials.