Potential Mechanisms of Action of Curcumin for Cancer Prevention: Focus on Cellular Signaling Pathways and miRNAs

Int J Biol Sci. 2019 May 7;15(6):1200-1214. doi: 10.7150/ijbs.33710. eCollection 2019.


Despite significant progressions in treatment modalities over the last decade, either cancer incidence or mortality is continuously on the rise throughout the world. Current anticancer agents display limited efficacy, accompanied by severe side effects. In order to improve therapeutic outcomes in patients with cancer, it is crucial to identify novel, highly efficacious pharmacological agents. Curcumin, a hydrophobic polyphenol extracted from turmeric, has gained increasing attention due to its powerful anticancer properties. Curcumin can inhibit the growth, invasion and metastasis of various cancers. The anticancer mechanisms of curcumin have been extensively studied. The anticancer effects of curcumin are mainly mediated through its regulation of multiple cellular signaling pathways, including Wnt/β-catenin, PI3K/Akt, JAK/STAT, MAPK, p53 and NF-ĸB signaling pathways. Moreover, curcumin also orchestrates the expression and activity of oncogenic and tumor-suppressive miRNAs. In this review, we summarized the regulation of these signaling pathways by curcumin in different cancers. We also discussed the modulatory function of curcumin in the downregulation of oncogenic miRNAs and the upregulation of tumor-suppressive miRNAs. An in-depth understanding of the anticancer mechanisms of curcumin will be helpful for developing this promising compound as a therapeutic agent in clinical management of cancer.

Keywords: cancer; curcumin; miRNAs; signaling pathways.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Curcumin / pharmacology
  • Curcumin / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • MicroRNAs
  • Curcumin