Can Turmeric Help Skin Cancer?

Turmeric is a popular spice that’s touted for its many health benefits. Some people even claim that it can prevent, treat, or cure skin cancer.

While there’s research that points towards the anti-cancer properties of turmeric, many of the trials have only been done in animals or cell cultures in laboratories.

More studies are needed to confirm that turmeric is a viable prevention or treatment option for skin cancer.

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What Is Turmeric?

Turmeric is a spice grown in many Asian countries. It is the fresh whole or dried and ground rhizome of a tall plant related to ginger.

Researchers have uncovered more than 100 different compounds in turmeric. One of these is curcumin — the ingredient that’s responsible for most of the spice’s health benefits.

Curcumin is thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

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What Are the Claims About Skin Cancer and Turmeric?

Various websites and blog accounts promote turmeric as a remedy or even a cure for many types of cancer, including skin cancer.

These sources may recommend applying turmeric to your skin lesions, consuming turmeric by mouth, or doing both.

While there are plenty of bold claims about turmeric and cancer, they generally aren’t supported by the medical community or reputable cancer organizations.

Most cancer experts believe more research needs to be conducted to determine if turmeric can treat skin cancer.

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What Does the Research Say About Turmeric and Skin Cancer?

Some research conducted in the lab and on animals suggests that curcumin might:

  • Prevent cancer
  • Slow the spread of cancer
  • Make chemotherapy more effective
  • Protect healthy cells from damage due to radiation therapy

In a study published in the journal Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, scientists studied how oral and topical curcumin affected mice that were exposed to UVB radiation three times a week for 24 weeks.

They found that the mice that received the curcumin developed fewer skin cancer tumors than those that didn’t. The time it took for tumors to form was also significantly longer in the mice that took curcumin.

The authors concluded that “curcumin appears to inhibit skin cancer formation and prolong time to tumor onset when administered by either an oral or topical route. These data suggest that curcumin may have a chemopreventive potential against skin cancer, necessitating future experimentation with human subjects.”

Another study, published some years earlier in the journal Cancer, found that curcumin stopped the growth of melanoma skin cancer cells in a lab. Scientists discovered the curcumin inhibited cancer cell viability and triggered cell death in three different melanoma cell samples. And, the higher the dose, the more effective it was.

In a study that appeared in the Journal of Skin Cancer, researchers found that topical curcumin was as effective as oral curcumin at suppressing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) skin cancer tumor growth in mice.

Authors of the research concluded, “Our data supports the use of curcumin as a chemopreventive for skin SCC where condemned skin is a significant problem.”

It’s important to note that most of these studies were performed on cell samples or animals. While a few small studies have shown positive findings in humans with different types of cancer, more research needs to be done to confirm turmeric’s effect on cancer.

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How Do You Use Turmeric?

You can buy turmeric root at the grocery store or specialty shops in the produce section.

Turmeric also comes in other forms, including powders, pastes, extracts, capsules, teas, or oils.

There’s not a standard dosage for cancer prevention or treatment. In clinical trials, people usually take between 1 gram (g) and 6 g per day. Some studies have shown it’s safe to take as much as 12 g a day.

If you’re applying turmeric directly to your skin, you may prefer the paste formulation. Or, you can mix the powder with other natural ingredients, like honey or yogurt.

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking turmeric as a supplement or using it on your skin.

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Warnings About Turmeric

Turmeric is generally considered safe if you’re using it in your cooking recipes.

But, if you’re taking high doses of the spice to treat or prevent cancer, you may experience some side effects, such as:

  • Stomach pain
  • Skin issues
  • An allergic reaction

Additionally, turmeric may interfere with how chemotherapies, blood thinners, or blood-sugar-lowering medicines work in your body.

Tell your doctor about all the drugs you take and the medical conditions you have before using a turmeric supplement.

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Limitations of Turmeric

A number of studies have shown that the body doesn’t easily and effectively absorb curcumin. Researchers are working to identify ways to improve the delivery of curcumin, so the body can use it better.

Also, even though curcumin is thought to contain anticancer properties, some research has shown it may interfere with how chemotherapy drugs work, perhaps making them stronger or more concentrated. This interaction can be problematic for some people who want to use turmeric supplements along with their standard cancer treatments.

Other Uses for Turmeric

Many people use turmeric to prevent or treat diseases other than cancer.

Some claim the spice can help with:

  • Infections
  • Arthritis
  • Kidney stones
  • Stomach and intestinal pain
  • Liver disease
  • Skin disorders
  • Depression

As with the turmeric and cancer association, many of these claims haven't been proved and need to be further evaluated in clinical studies.

RELATED: Can Eating Too Much Turmeric Pose Negative Side Effects?

The Bottom Line

Turmeric is a popular spice that may have cancer-fighting properties and other health benefits.

While many internet sites claim supplements of turmeric can cure skin cancer, there’s not enough evidence to support them. More studies need to be done in humans before turmeric becomes a mainstay treatment.

Talk to your doctor before taking turmeric if you have skin cancer. Never use turmeric to replace the medical therapy your healthcare provider recommends.

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