A reader recently drew my attention to a form of CAM that is particularly dangerous and irresponsible but that like the mythological Hydra manages to raise its ugly head again and again despite efforts to kill it. Its latest incarnation in the veterinary field is as Neoplasene, yet another example of how CAM can achieve success through marketing unsupported by any evidence of real benefit.
According to the marketing materials, the ingredient in Neoplasene is “one of the prominent candidates deserving of the wonder drug designation.”(1) Pretty exciting, no? The promoters go on to follow the well-traveled road of CAM marketing, explaining why scientific medicine has missed the obvious truth, and only the iconoclastic promoters of the “wonder drug” can see it. “[Pathologists] clearly have not made reliable sense out of biopsy analysis…they just aren’t up to the task of reliable diagnostics.”(1) Of course, that doesn’t really matter since “this author…believes that inordinate attention is paid to diagnostics because, until now, little could be done to eliminate neoplastic disease so instead of treatment mainstream protocol has been to study the symptoms a lot and treat the disease a little.”
Oh, instead of studying the disease, we should be treating it!!! Gosh, how could we have been so blind? Oh, maybe because of “the barriers to the development and use of really effective cure oriented chemical treatment of neoplasm which are intertwined with political, economic and regulatory realities.”(1) See where this is going? “Cancer treatment and research are big business. Tremendous resources of facilities, personnel and funding are allocated to address education, equipment, real estate, personnel and patented designer drugs. Big organizations have momentum; they do not change direction easily or quickly…It has been viewed by drug developers that patentability may not be attained on some pharmaceuticals.”(1) So we in mainstream haven’t seen that “these alkaloids clearly attack neoplasm preferentially” and “this fact has been known and largely ignored by pharmaceutical researchers for nearly two hundred years” because of institutional inertia and the fear that we won’t make back the cost of developing such a miraculous cancer cure.
Such clichés seem as obviously ridiculous and unbelievable as the fake moon landing sort, yet they are just as persistent, and even more dangerous in that they drive people away from real medicine and into the arms of CAM.
The Neoplasene marketing materials go on in some detail, using testimonials and sloppy semi-scientific verbiage to clearly claim that the product treats, and even cures cancer, despite a few lame disclaimers to the contrary. And what is this miracle elixir the bloated bureaucracy of scientific medicine has overlooked?
Neoplasene is a derivative of bloodroot, which is one of several caustic herbal products known as escharotics(2). When applied topically in sufficient concentrations, these derivatives burn the flesh and cause tissue necrosis, often leaving thick scabs called eschars, and tremendous local devastation of healthy tissue. The danger of these products is well-illustrated by case reports in the scientific literature(3,4). Though the promoters claim the chemicals somehow recognize cancerous tissue and spare healthy tissue, there is no clinical evidence of this. Some preliminary in vitro research certainly shows the chemicals can kill cells. And there is some limited evidence that they may even be better at killing diseased cells than healthy cells in culture.(5) But when you smear the stuff on your skin to “draw out” the neoplastic cells and leave untouched the healthy tissue, you’re likely to wind up with a gaping hole and a lot of plastic surgery to look forward to. If you’re especially lucky, though, some deeper neoplastic cells will be left behind, and the provider of the salve can then explain why the recurrence or metastasis of your cancer despite its apparent removal by the product is not their fault. Probably chemicals in the water or something.
The promoters of Neoplasene acknowledge, while downplaying, the risk of tissue damage from topical use of their product. They say you should “expect a wound to manage. It size will be in proportion to the extent of the tumor and the amount of Neoplasene compound applied…expect some scarring.”(1) The relevance of their earlier claim that “bloodroot chemicals and Neoplasene are simply not escharotics. They do not burn flesh” isn’t entirely clear, since they seem to be arguing that causing tissue to die and slough off leaving a bloody great hole is fine, so long as it’s through some mechanism other than chemical burn. Hmm.
The FDA has actually gone so far as to ban importation and marketing of bloodroot and other escharotics for cancer treatment, an all-too-rare example of government challenging “Big CAM” which further illustrates how frightening these products are(2). And yet these products are easily found on the Internet and used by a depressingly large number of CAM-oriented veterinarians, likely with a genuine belief that they are curing cancer through a miraculous means ignored by the corrupt and blind medical-industrial complex. I can’t say whether the active use and promotion of such products in the veterinary field, free from government sanction, is due to a loophole in the law or just the fact that the Hydra has many more heads than the FDA has paid investigators.
The only FDA-approved use of a bloodroot derivative, sanguinarine in dentifrice, is no longer popular as it proved to be a significant risk factor for leukoplakia, a potentially pre-cancerous disease(6). And while removal of low-risk, superficial skin tumors can be accomplished with escharotics, there are safer and more effective methods. Far from being a “wonder drug,” these products are an inappropriate and dangerous substitute for real scientific diagnosis and therapy of cancer. And contrary to the nonsense about the venality and blindness of the “cancer industry” and their own great insight, the promoters of Neoplasene are simply the latest head of the corrosive hydra that is bloodroot derivative cancer salves.
1. Fox, T.S. Discussion of and clinical guide for: the treatment of neoplasm, proud flesh and warts with sanguinarine and related isoquinoline alkaloids. Buck Mountain Botanicals, Inc., www.neoplasene.net, 2008.
2. Barrett, S. Don’t use corrosive cancer salves (escharotics); Quackwatch. www.quackwatch.org, 2009.
4. Moran, AM., Helm, K.F. Histopathologic findings and diagnostic difficulties posed with use of escharotic agents for treatment of skin lesions: a case report and review of the literature. J Cutan Pathol 2008; 35:404-406.