PURPOSE To determine whether curcumin ameliorates acute and chronic radiation skin toxicity and to examine the expression of inflammatory cytokines (interleukin [IL]-1, IL-6, IL-18, IL-1Ra, tumor necrosis factor [TNF]-alpha, and lymphotoxin-beta) or fibrogenic cytokines (transforming growth factor [TGF]-beta) during the same acute and chronic phases. METHODS AND MATERIALS Curcumin was given intragastrically or intraperitoneally to C3H/HeN mice either: 5 days before radiation; 5 days after radiation; or both 5 days before and 5 days after radiation. The cutaneous damage was assessed at 15-21 days (acute) and 90 days (chronic) after a single 50 Gy radiation dose was given to the hind leg. Skin and muscle tissues were collected for measurement of cytokine mRNA. RESULTS Curcumin, administered before or after radiation, markedly reduced acute and chronic skin toxicity in mice (p < 0.05). Additionally, curcumin significantly decreased mRNA expression of early responding cytokines (IL-1 IL-6, IL-18, TNF-alpha, and lymphotoxin-beta) and the fibrogenic cytokine, TGF-beta, in cutaneous tissues at 21 days postradiation. CONCLUSION Curcumin has a protective effect on radiation-induced cutaneous damage in mice, which is characterized by a downregulation of both inflammatory and fibrogenic cytokines in irradiated skin and muscle, particularly in the early phase after radiation. These results may provide the molecular basis for the application of curcumin in clinical radiation therapy.