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Turmeric extract proves effective to treat oral pre-cancer lesions

At a glance

  • Clinical trial shows majority of patients with oral pre cancer lesions respond to treatment
  • Incidences of relapse very low
  • First study in 25 years demonstrating efficacy and low toxicity to treat oral pre cancer lesions
  • 42-year-old patient enrolled in trial showing complete cure oral pre cancer

Clinical Research Details
Scientists have found Curcumin, an extract of the common Indian spice Turmeric to be effective in treating leukoplakia, an oral pre-cancer lesion.
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This research was supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology. The clinical trial involved 223 subjects with leukoplakia who were treated randomly with either curcumin or placebo.

After the six months intervention, subjects were followed up for another six months. The study found that 67% of the patients who received curcumin responded to the treatment and the medication was well-tolerated. Compared to other medications used to treat oral pre-cancer lesions where one usually observes relapse rates of up to 64% after cessation of medication, with curcumin, only 7% relapse was observed. The result of the trial will shortly be published in the Journal Cancer Prevention Research.

The team of clinicians and scientists involved in the study consists of Dr. Moni Abraham Kuriakose, Mazumdar-Shaw Center for Translational Research, Narayana Health City, Bangalore, Dr. K. Ramdas, Regional Cancer Center, Thiruvananthapuram, Professor Radhakrishna Pillai, Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology, Thiruvanathapuram, Dr. Subramanya Iyer, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, Dr. Gunaseelan Rajan, Chennai Dental Research Foundation and Dr Bindu Dey, Technology Development Board, New Delhi. Curcumin for the trial was supplied by Arjuna Natural Extracts, Kerala.

Turmeric has long been used for several ayurvedic and home based treatments. A number of laboratory studies on cancer cells have also shown that curcumin does have anticancer effects.

Oral cancer burden of India
Head and neck cancer accounts for about 30% of all cancers in India and is the leading cause of death and disability in India. The annual global incidence of oral cancer is about 350,000. According to the 2016 Indian Council of Medical Research Report the annual incidence of oral cancer in India is about 150,000. At any given time there are about 400,000 patients living with oral cancer in the country.

For every oral cancer patient, there are about 400 with oral pre-cancer lesions. These include leukoplakia, which can be readily recognized by persistent white patch in the oral cavity. These lesions have the potential to transform into oral cancer.

The best strategy to lower the burden of oral cancer is to prevent its occurrence either through cessation of smoking or Gutka chewing or through treatment of oral pre cancer lesions. Till date there are no effective treatments for these lesions. All existing treatments have significant side effects and risk of relapse of lesions on cessation of medications. This is the first study in the past 25 years to demonstrate both efficacy and low toxicity of an agent to treat oral pre cancer lesions. A 42-year-old patient who was enrolled in the curcumin trial is at present showing complete resolution of the oral pre cancer lesion with six months of treatment of curcumin

With inputs from Dr. Moni Abraham Kuriakose