A UK trial is investigating whether a curry ingredient can improve the treatment of patients with advanced bowel cancer.
Scientists will supplement standard chemotherapy with pills containing curcumin, a compound found in the yellow curry spice turmeric.
Laboratory tests have suggested that curcumin can boost the ability of chemotherapy drugs to kill bowel cancer cells. Some studies have indicated it may slow the spread of cancer, improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and protect healthy cells from the effects of radiotherapy.
However, hard evidence from properly conducted scientific trials is lacking.
The two-year trial, conducted by scientists from Cancer Research UK and the University of Leicester, aims to recruit about 40 patients with bowel cancer that has spread to the liver.
Patients with advanced bowel cancer are normally given a treatment called FOLFOX which combines three chemotherapy drugs. But many - between 40% and 60% - do not respond to the therapy, and those who do may suffer side effects such as tingling and nerve pain.
Chief investigator Professor William Steward, director of the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) at the University of Leicester, said: "Once bowel cancer has spread it is very difficult to treat, partly because the side effects of chemotherapy can limit how long patients can have treatment.
"The prospect that curcumin might increase the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy is exciting because it could mean giving lower doses, so patients have fewer side effects and can keep having treatment for longer.
"This research is at a very early stage but investigating the potential of plant chemicals to treat cancer is an intriguing area that we hope could provide clues to developing new drugs in the future."
The study will take place at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Leicester General Hospital. Three-quarters of the patients will be given curcumin tablets for seven days before undergoing FOLFOX treatment. The remainder will only be treated with FOLFOX.