Curcumin and Cancer Cells: How Many Ways Can Curry Kill Tumor Cells Selectively?

Cancer is a hyperproliferative disorder that is usually treated by chemotherapeutic agents that are toxic not only to tumor cells but also to normal cells, so these agents produce major side effects. In addition, these agents are highly expensive and thus not affordable for most. Moreover, such agents cannot be used for cancer prevention. Traditional medicines are generally free of the deleterious side effects and usually inexpensive. Curcumin, a component of turmeric (Curcuma longa), is one such agent that is safe, affordable, and efficacious. How curcumin kills tumor cells is the focus of this review. We show that curcumin modulates growth of tumor cells through regulation of multiple cell signaling pathways including cell proliferation pathway (cyclin D1, c-myc), cell survival pathway (Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, cFLIP, XIAP, c-IAP1), caspase activation pathway (caspase-8, 3, 9), tumor suppressor pathway (p53, p21) death receptor pathway (DR4, DR5), mitochondrial pathways, and protein kinase pathway (JNK, Akt, and AMPK). How curcumin selectively kills tumor cells, and not normal cells, is also described in detail.