Anticancer and carcinogenic properties of curcumin: considerations for its clinical development as a cancer chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic agent

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Jun;52 Suppl 1:S103-27. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200700238.


A growing body of research suggests that curcumin, the major active constituent of the dietary spice turmeric, has potential for the prevention and therapy of cancer. Preclinical data have shown that curcumin can both inhibit the formation of tumors in animal models of carcinogenesis and act on a variety of molecular targets involved in cancer development. In vitro studies have demonstrated that curcumin is an efficient inducer of apoptosis and some degree of selectivity for cancer cells has been observed. Clinical trials have revealed that curcumin is well tolerated and may produce antitumor effects in people with precancerous lesions or who are at a high risk for developing cancer. This seems to indicate that curcumin is a pharmacologically safe agent that may be used in cancer chemoprevention and therapy. Both in vitro and in vivo studies have shown, however, that curcumin may produce toxic and carcinogenic effects under specific conditions. Curcumin may also alter the effectiveness of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. This review article analyzes the in vitro and in vivo cancer-related activities of curcumin and discusses that they are linked to its known antioxidant and pro-oxidant properties. Several considerations that may help develop curcumin as an anticancer agent are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Curcuma / chemistry
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Curcumin / therapeutic use
  • Curcumin / toxicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Carcinogens
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Curcumin