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A cancer cure from the garden?

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Can the white milky plant sap of petty spurge-Euphorbia peplus, also known as radium weed or cancer weed-be a cure for skin cancer? It appears that this urban broad-leafed weed, found all over Great Britain, may provide a cure for the common non-melanoma types of skin cancers-in other words, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and intra-epidermal carcinoma.

The milky juice, as well as the resin, from members of the whole Euphorbia plant genus has been used successfully in homeopathic medicine for many genera-tions to treat various skin conditions, including these cancers, using low potencies (third to sixth attenuations) (Boericke W. Pocket Manual of Homoeopathic Materia Medica, 9th edn. Philadelphia, PA: Boericke & Runyon, 1927: 276-8). In phytotherapy, it has also been used topically to treat common warts (Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. G”oteborg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum, 1988: 337).

As the plant sap had been used for centuries in Natural Medicine, the researchers wanted to put it through its paces in a proper clinical trial.

A study of skin cancer

One successful clinical study enrolled patients who had either previously failed to respond to other types of orthodox medical treatment, including surgery, or had refused surgical treatment, or were unsuitable for treatment for various reasons, such as their age (Br J Dermatol,
27 January 2011; doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010. 10184.x).

The study included 36 such patients who collectively had a total of 48 non-melanoma cancerous lesions. Each patient was treated with the sap of the petty spurge plant, which was applied to the affected skin once a day for three days.

After one month, 41 of the 48 cancers had shown a complete clinical response to the treatment-in other words, no traces of the tumour could be found on both clinical and histological (microscopy) examination.

The seven patients who experienced only a partial response during the first round of treatment were then offered a second course of treatment. The lesions that responded positively to either one or two courses of treatment were then further followed-up for between two and 31 months.

After an average of 15 months following treatment, just over two-thirds (68.5%, or 30 of the 48) of the skin-cancer lesions were still showing a complete response (in other words, no sign of tumour).

The researchers say that large-scale studies are now needed to test what is thought to be the active ingredient in the weed’s sap-a compound known as ‘ingenol mebutate’-as a potential new orthodox medical treatment option. Preliminary studies show that when ingenol mebutate, in the form of a gel, is applied to the skin, it not only kills the cancerous cells, but also recruits the white blood cells known as ‘neutrophils’, which appear to reduce the risk of relapse by destroying any residual malignant cells that might allow the tumour to re-grow.

Sadly, this suggests that the usual orthodox medical error is destined to be committed: the leaving out of all the other accompanying molecular plant components that may have beneficially modifying effects on ingenol mebutate by buffering the possible side-effects.

Nevertheless, this was only a small test group, so it will be interesting to see what larger studies of E. peplus sap will reveal. Although it doesn’t provide an alternative to surgery for the more invasive skin cancers or melanoma, it may well become established as a treatment of choice in Natural Medicine, and become available to patients who have superficial, non-melanoma-type skin cancers.

It should be stressed that this is not a treatment that anyone should be trying out at home on his own. Such treatment should only be undertaken under the close guidance of an experienced health-care practitioner. This is because of the well-known fact, from the homeopathic proving (pathogenetic experiment) by Hahnemann et al. two centuries ago, that both the juice and the resin of this plant in material doses are exceedingly acrid and burning irritants to the skin and mucous membranes.

Harald Gaier


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