Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus)

Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus)

Madagascar plant originally used to derive Vincristine (Oncovin or VCR) chemotherapy drug.

MORE CANCER FIGHTERS

An ancient Native American treatment for cancer has been shown to have some beneficial effect on tumor size, despite long-standing skepticism from the medical establishment.

Chaparral is an evergreen desert shrub used by native peoples to treat cancer, colds, wounds, bronchitis, warts and ringworm.

Chaparral tea was widely used in the United States as an alternative anticancer agent from the late 1950s to the 1970s. But the American Cancer Society said there was no proof it was an effective treatment for cancer — or for any other disease. And the US Food and Drug Administration warned against its use after research showed it could damage the liver and the kidneys.

Now, early results from a new study that were presented August 11 at an International Conference on Head and Neck Cancer in Washington, DC, show that an extract of the shrub appears to be safe; further, it may have a positive effect. Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina have shown that an extract of chaparral may shrink some tumors.

These results are not conclusive, but scientists now plan a larger study aimed at showing whether the chaparral drug really does work.

The idea that plant compounds can be a source of anticancer agents is not new. For example, the drugs vinblastine and vincristine — which come from the periwinkle plant — are used to treat many different cancers. And the medicine Taxol — obtained from the bark of yew trees — is used to treat ovarian and breast cancer.

Coincidentally, a Spanish study has shown that an extract of cannabis — or marijuana — may finally be the long-sought agent that can target brain cancer cells. Malignant brain cells have the unusual ability to evade destruction by radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery. But marijuana compounds called cannabinoids could starve tumors to death by halting the growth of blood vessels that feed them. The marijuana study was published in the August 2004 issue of Cancer Research.

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