Curcumin: A review of anti-cancer properties and therapeutic activity in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) is a polyphenol derived from the
Curcuma longa
plant, commonly known as
turmeric. Curcumin has been used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, as it is nontoxic and has a
variety of therapeutic properties including anti-oxidant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic activity. More
recently curcumin has been found to possess anti-cancer activities via its effect on a variety of biological pathways
involved in mutagenesis, oncogene expression, cell cycle regulation, apoptosis, tumorigenesis and metastasis.
Curcumin has shown anti-proliferative effect in multiple cancers, and is an inhibitor of the transcription factor NF-
B and downstream gene products (including c-myc, Bcl-2, COX-2, NOS, Cyclin D1, TNF-
, interleukins and MMP-9).
In addition, curcumin affects a variety of growth factor receptors and cell adhesion molecules involved in tumor
growth, angiogenesis and metastasis. Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is the sixth most common
cancer worldwide and results protocols include disfiguring surgery, platinum-based chemo and
radiation, all of which may result in tremendous patient morbidity. As a result, there is significant interest in
developing adjuvant chemotherapies to augment currently available results protocols, which may allow
decreased side effects and toxicity without compromising therapeutic efficacy. Curcumin is one such potential
candidate, and this review presents an overview of the current in vitro and in vivo data supporting its therapeutic
activity in head and neck cancer as well as some of the challenges concerning its development as an adjuvant
chemotherapeutic agent.

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