Cayenne pepper appears to effect different cancers in different ways, and the nature of the effect depends on the stage of the cancer. Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin; traditional medicine employs this compound as an herbal remedy for the treatment of numerous chronic diseases, including cancer. At present, research into the role of cayenne pepper in cancer treatment delivers mixed results: Some research suggests that capsaicin promotes tumor growth while other studies show that capsaicin facilitates the death of cancer cells.
Capsaicin goes by a variety of common names, including capsicum, cayenne and conoids. According to the American Cancer Society, most human studies into capsaicin focus mainly on its effectiveness as an oral treatment for pain relief in cancer patients with side effects from chemotherapy and radiation therapy. While capsaicin shows promise in some laboratory and animal studies, results from human studies remain unavailable. Therefore, as of 2011 the American Cancer Society does not endorse capsaicin as a cancer treatment.
Capsaicin demonstrates the ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells; research suggests that the compound promotes apoptosis – the death of cancer cells. In 2010 researchers from the UCLA School of Medicine studied breast cancer cells and found that capsaicin not only retarded their growth and arrested their ability to travel, but also increased the degree of apoptosis. The results of this research were published in the January 2010 issue of the journal “Oncogene.”
Capsaicin also appears to promote the growth of tumors, particularly in skin cancer cases; however, as of 2011 the research available to prove this claim exists only in animal studies. Researchers from the University of Minnesota examined the impact of capsaicin in skin cancer tumors and found it to increase both the number and size of skin cancer tumors. The results of this study were published in the September 2010 issue of the journal “Cancer Research.”
According to the American Cancer Society, the capsaicin in cayenne pepper demonstrates the ability to arrest the growth of prostate cancer cells. However, while encouraging, research that supports cayenne pepper as a treatment for prostate cancer exists only in laboratory and animal studies as of 2011. Researchers are investigating the potential use of cayenne pepper to treat cancer. However, human studies are necessary to determine if the benefits of capsaicin extend to humans.
- American Cancer Society: Capsicum; November 2008
- Oncogene: Capsaicin Causes Cell-Cycle Arrest and Apoptosis in ER-Positive and -Negative Breast Cancer Cells by Modulating the EGFR/HER-2 Pathway; N.H. Thoennissen et al.; January 2010
- Cancer Research: Cocarcinogenic Effect of Capsaicin Involves Activation of EGFR Signaling but Not TRPV1; Mun Kyung Hwang et al.; September 2010