January 26, 2011

Weed Sap Treats Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers

Experts report in the British Journal of Dermatology that sap from the common garden weed petty spurge appears to treat non-melanoma skin cancers.

However, they tell patients not to "try it at home" since the treatment is still in an experimental state.

Their study involved 36 patients with non-melanoma skin cancer lesions.

Non-melanoma lesions are very common and account for a third of all cancers detected in the U.K.

They include basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and usually occur in older people.

Most cases of non-melanoma skin cancer can be easily treated and cured with surgical removal or freezing, or by using a special light therapy that kills the cancer cells.

However, some people do not find these treatments suitable.

The study involved 36 patients who collectively had a total of 48 non-melanoma lesions.

Each patient was treated with sap of the petty spurge plant, or Euphorbia peplus, which was applied to the skin once a day for three days.

The plant sap has been used for centuries as a traditional medicine, and the researchers wanted to put it though its paces in a proper clinical trial.

Forty-one of the 48 cancers had shown a complete clinical response to the treatment after a month.

Patients who experienced only a partial response to the first round of treatment were then offered a second course.

According to the study, the lesions that responded positively to one or two courses of treatment were then followed up further for between two and 31 months.

After about 15 months following treatment, 30 of the 48 lesions were still showing a complete response.

The researchers say large-scale studies are now needed to test the active ingredient in the weed's sap as a potential new treatment option.

Other studies have found that when Ingenol mebutate is applied to the skin it not only kills the cancerous cells but also recruits white blood cells known as neutrophils that appear to reduce the risk of relapse by destroying any residual malignant cells that could allow the tumor to re-grow.

Kimberley Carter of the British Association of Dermatologists told BBC News:  "This is a very small test group so it will be interesting to see what larger studies and the development of the active ingredient in E. peplus sap will reveal."

"Whilst it would not provide an alternative to surgery for the more invasive skin cancers or melanoma, in the future it might become a useful addition to the treatments available to patients for superficial, non-melanoma skin cancers."

"Any advances that could lead to new therapies for patients where surgery is not an option are definitely worth investigating."

"It is also very important to note that this is definitely not a treatment people should be trying out at home."

"Exposure of the sap to mucous producing surfaces, such as the eyes, results in extreme inflammation and can lead to hospitalization."

According to Cancer Research U.K., people who suspect skin lesions should continue to see doctors who can advise the best treatment.


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