It's no secret that most anti-cancer and other medical therapies originally come from herbal remedies that have stood the test of time. The main reason these herbal remedies in their natural form aren't used in conventional medicine is because of a catch 22. They are natural, and anything that's natural is not patentable. That means that Big Pharma can't make enough money to justify the research needed to test them. So instead of using the unpatentable natural remedy, they are forced to change the natural remedy into a drug. Although the new form is patentable, it almost always has many more side effects than the natural substance. And they're not always as effective.
Not long ago, researchers published data on one of these unpatentable herbs that showed it to be effective at eradicating a precancerous condition called actinic keratosis.
Actinic keratosis is a common skin condition that can turn into a potentially serious skin cancer called squamous-cell carcinoma. The conventional treatment for actinic keratosis is a chemo drug called Efudex. Efudex has to be applied daily for weeks to months. It often results in a significant amount of skin irritation that can take up to two months to go away. So, is there a better way to treat actinic keratosis?
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Euphorbia peplus is the botanical name of a plant commonly called petty spurge, radium weed, cancer weed, or milkweed. You'll find mostly in Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. Researchers recently investigated the efficacy and safety of a substance called ingenol mebutate found in the sap of euphorbia peplus as a treatment for actinic keratosis. They applied a 0.015% ingenol mebutate gel for actinic keratosis on the face and scalp, and a stronger 0.05% gel for the trunk and extremities. They gave half the patients the ingenol mebutate gel, and the other half used a placebo gel. They applied the gel only once a day for three consecutive days for lesions on the face or scalp or for two consecutive days for the trunk or extremities. Here's what happened.
Almost half of the actinic keratoses lesions completely disappeared with the ingenol mebutate gel. And the level of skin irritation was nowhere near what patients see with Efudex. According to the authors, "Adverse events were generally mild to moderate in intensity and resolved without any problems. Ingenol mebutate gel applied topically for two-to-three days is effective for field treatment of actinic keratoses."
You can buy ingenol mebutate gel at pharmacies and online. It's called Picato. You will need to have your doctor give you a prescription for it. Although I haven't tried it, it does look like a much better alternative than Efudex. It causes much less irritation, and the irritation it does cause goes away much faster. Also, it needs to be applied for only two-to-three days instead of every day for weeks to months for Efudex. The only real problem with Picato is its cost. It costs about 10 times as much as Efudex. And just like with Efudex it might stimulate a herpes outbreak or shingles, and you should not use it close to the eyes.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Lebwohl M, Swanson N, et al. Ingenol mebutate gel for actinic keratosis. N Engl J Med. 2012 Mar 15;366(11):1010-9.