Cervical cancer deaths have dropped by half since 1985, thanks to the Pap test.

But cervical cancer still kills about 4,100 American women every year, with almost all cases caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). 

HPV is transmitted by skin-to-skin or (usually) sexual contact, and it can also cause oral cancers.

Oral cancers affect either the mouth or the pharynx tube that connects the mouth and nasal passages to the esophagus.

About 39,500 Americans – twice as many men as women – get oral cancer annually, and some 7,500 die as a result.

HPV-related oral cancer became headline news in 2013, when actor Michael Douglas announced that he'd developed it in his throat.

According to Dr. Eric Genden, chair of otolaryngology at New York's Mt. Sinai Hospital, "There's an epidemic of HPV-related throat cancers."

Every year, about 4 million Americans aged 15 to 24 get infected with HPV, but the vast majority will never have symptoms or suffer harm. 

A new lab study suggests that curcumin – the antioxidant that gives turmeric root its orange-yellow hue – may help prevent or curb HPV-related cancers.

Curcumin quells HPV in human cells
Ten years ago, an Indian study showed that curcumin suppressed the genetic "expression” of HPV in cervical cancer cells (Prusty BK, Das BC 2005).

That study was followed by other encouraging ones:
  • Curcumin suppresses HPV in human cells (Maher DM et al. 2011).
  • Curcumin can cause apoptosis in cervical cancer cells ... a kind of cellular "suicide” (Singh M et al. 2010).
  • A curcumin-based vaginal cream selectively eliminated human cervical cancer cells (Basu P et al. 2013; Debata PR et al. 2013).
  • Curcumin counteracts the growth-promoting effect of estradiol – the primary female sex hormone – on cervical cancer cells (Singh M et al. 2010)

The new study comes from researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Mayo Clinic, Emory University, and Indian universities.

It was led by Alok Mishra, Ph.D., of the NCI and Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute, who noted in a press release, "Turmeric has established antiviral and anti-cancer properties.”

Dr. Mishra's study was designed to see whether curcumin would also suppress HPV activity in oral cancer cells.

And indeed, as his team hoped, curcumin slowed the genetic "expression” of HPV, suggesting that curcumin could control the extent of HPV infection.

"Since HPV-related oral cancer cases are on rise, we tested the same hypothesis on oral cancer,” Dr. Mishra said. "They turned out to be some very interesting findings."

The new research indicates that curcumin turns down the expression of HPV in infected oral cancer cells by down-regulating the levels of two key "messenger” proteins called AP-1 and NF-kB.

As Dr. Nicholas Perricone notes in his bestselling anti-aging books, AP-1 and NF-kB promote inflammation and cancer growth … and both can be suppressed by food-borne antioxidants like curcumin.

Wisely, Dr. Mishra wouldn't speculate on any potential preventive or therapeutic benefits of cooking with turmeric or taking curcumin supplements.

But he believes that turmeric and its curcumin are good for health in general, and may help curb HPV-related oral and cervical cancers. 

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