Curcumin as an anti-inflammatory agent: Implications to radiotherapy and chemotherapy

J Cell Physiol. 2019 May;234(5):5728-5740. doi: 10.1002/jcp.27442. Epub 2018 Oct 14.


Cancer is the second cause of death worldwide. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the most common modalities for the treatment of cancer. Experimental studies have shown that inflammation plays a central role in tumor resistance and the incidence of several side effects following both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Inflammation resulting from radiotherapy and chemotherapy is responsible for adverse events such as dermatitis, mucositis, pneumonitis, fibrosis, and bone marrow toxicity. Chronic inflammation may also lead to the development of second cancer during years after treatment. A number of anti-inflammatory drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents have been proposed to alleviate chronic inflammatory reactions after radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Curcumin is a well-documented herbal anti-inflammatory agents. Studies have proposed that curcumin can help management of inflammation during and after radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Curcumin targets various inflammatory mediators such as cyclooxygenase-2, inducible nitric oxide synthase, and nuclear factor κB (NF-κB), thereby attenuating the release of proinflammatory and profibrotic cytokines, and suppressing chronic production of free radicals, which culminates in the amelioration of tissue toxicity. Through modulation of NF-κB and its downstream signaling cascade, curcumin can also reduce angiogenesis, tumor growth, and metastasis. Low toxicity of curcumin is linked to its cytoprotective effects in normal tissues. This protective action along with the capacity of this phytochemical to sensitize tumor cells to radiotherapy and chemotherapy makes it a potential candidate for use as an adjuvant in cancer therapy. There is also evidence from clinical trials suggesting the potential utility of curcumin for acute inflammatory reactions during radiotherapy such as dermatitis and mucositis.

Keywords: cancer; chemotherapy; curcumin; inflammation; radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use*
  • Curcumin / adverse effects
  • Curcumin / therapeutic use*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / etiology
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / metabolism
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology
  • Radiation Injuries / metabolism
  • Radiation Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Radiation-Protective Agents / adverse effects
  • Radiation-Protective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects
  • Risk Factors
  • Signal Transduction


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Radiation-Protective Agents
  • Curcumin