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Stopping Skin Cancer With a Plant Chemical

Bloodroot Plant May Help Prevent Skin Cancer From UVB
WebMD Health News

Oct. 19, 2004 -- Nature's treasure trove of potential cancer fighters could have another addition. A compound in the bloodroot plant may protect against skin cancer, according to a new study.

Just last week, word came that a chemical in the corn lily plant might combat a type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinomas.

Now, it's the bloodroot plant's turn in the spotlight. Sanguinarine derived from the root of Sanguinaria canadensis and other poppy-fumaria species has been found to exhibit antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and now anticancer properties.

The news comes from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, researcher Nihal Ahmad, PhD, and colleagues who presented their findings in Seattle at the 3rd Annual American Association for Cancer Research International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention.

Sanguinarine is already widely used in toothpaste and mouthwash because of its antiplaque properties. Could sunscreen be far behind?

First, the researchers treated skin cells with a low concentration of sanguinarine for 24 hours. Next, they exposed the skin cells to ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation, which causes about 90% of all skin cancers.

Ultraviolet radiation (UV) also has been shown to have other effects on skin cells, it may also help initiate cell death. It appears that this mechanism protects UVB-exposed skin cells from successfully changing into malignant or cancerous skin cells.

In the study sanguinarine helped the cells defend themselves against UVB radiation damage.

For instance, there was a 49%-66% increase in the cell deaths compared with cells that did not receive sanguinarine. Killing UVB-damaged cells stops them in their tracks before skin cancer develops. The pretreatment also helped decrease a protein known to reduce programmed cell death. The researchers say this results in a balance toward promoting cell death in cells exposed to UVB damage.

Sanguinarine didn't give the cells any new abilities and it had no effect by itself. Instead, it appeared to enhance the cells' natural responses to UVB radiation.

Sanguinarine might eventually be used topically to protect against skin cancer, if detailed lab and animal studies confirm its potential, say the researchers.

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