Curcumin: a potential radio-enhancer in head and neck cancer

Laryngoscope. 2009 Oct;119(10):2019-26. doi: 10.1002/lary.20582.


Objectives/hypothesis: To investigate whether curcumin enhances the cytotoxic effect of radiotherapy in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

Methods: HNSCC cell lines SCC-1, SCC-9, KB, as well as A431 cell line were treated with curcumin, irradiation, or their combination. Cell viability was evaluated by XTT assay. Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), epithelial growth factor receptor (EGFR), and p-Erk1/2 were measured by Western blot analysis. CD-1 athymic nude mice with orthotopic implanted SCC-1 cells, were treated with control diet, curcumin containing diet, local single-dose radiation, or combination.

Results: Curcumin (IC50 range, 15-22 microM) and radiation inhibited cell viability in all cell lines were tested. The combination of curcumin and radiation resulted in additive effect. Curcumin decreased COX-2 expression and inhibited phosphorylation of EGFR in SCC-1 cells. In tumor-bearing mice the combination regimen showed a decrease in both tumor weight (25%, P = .09) and tumor size (15%, P = .23) compared to the nontreated mice.

Conclusions: : Curcumin inhibited HNSCC cell growth and augmented the effect of radiation in vitro and in vivo. A possible mechanism is inhibition of COX-2 expression and EGFR phosphorylation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / radiotherapy*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Curcumin / pharmacology*
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3
  • Curcumin