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Oleander Extract in Cancer Treatment

People living with mesothelioma and other types of cancer are fighting for their lives, but are also battling the side effects of the harsh treatments used to kill the cancer cells. Treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can be highly effective for many cancer patients, but they can also cause pain, nausea, skin rashes, and a variety of other symptoms that may become so severe that a person will discontinue treatment.

Many cancer patients are looking for alternatives, including treatments and remedies that come from the natural world. Plants, herbals, and other nature-based medicines are growing in popularity. Some treat symptoms and give patients a better quality of life, while others, like extract from the oleander plant, are actually being tested as treatments for killing cancer cells and shrinking tumors.

Beware – Oleander Plants Are Highly Toxic

Oleander is a flowering shrub or small tree that is very common in gardens throughout the mild and warmer parts of the world. It is used ornamentally because it looks nice with dark green, shiny leaves and pink or white showy flowers. In spite of the fact that these plants are common, they are among the most poisonous of all ornamental plants.

Any part of the plant, if consumed, can be toxic enough to cause death. Eating just one leaf may be fatal. Throughout history, parts of the oleander plant have been used as poisons and as a method for committing suicide, which demonstrates just how deadly this plant can be. There are many possible symptoms caused by oleander poisoning, which set in a few hours after consuming the plant, including low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, blurry vision, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, a rash, fainting, dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, headaches, and disorientation. Any ingestion of any part of an oleander plant should be considered a medical emergency.

Oleander and Medicine

In spite of the high toxicity of the plant, oleander extract has been used for many years in herbal and alternative medical treatments. There is not a lot of evidence that the extract is effective for these uses, but it has been used to treat asthma, heart problems, seizure, menstrual cramps, hepatitis, AIDS, and skin problems when used as a topical medication. Taking oleander for any of these reasons is considered risky because of the toxicity of the plant. However, studies are currently ongoing to determine if oleander extract and drugs made from compounds found in oleander could be effective at killing cancer cells and treating cancer patients.

Oleandrin and Cancer

One of the active substances found in oleander is called oleandrin. Research has found that oleandrin actually inhibits the growth of certain cancer cells. The drug made with oleandrin is called Anvirzel and it has been shown to both suppress the growth of cells and actively cause cell death in some cell lines for cancer. Research has also found that oleandrin can increase the sensitivity of prostate cancer cells to the effects of radiation treatment. Currently, Anvirzel is not available for all patients. Only approved clinical trials are currently using the drug on human patients.

In one important study that used cancer cell lines in the lab, researchers found that oleander extract could selectively kill lung cancer cells, an exciting finding for anyone with mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer. The researchers used the extract on lung cancer cells and non-malignant lung cells. The results showed that the extract killed only the cancerous cells, meaning it could potentially be used to treat tumor cells without harming healthy cells.

Oleander Clinical Trials

Currently, oleandrin and Anvirzel are mostly in the first phase of clinical trials for treating cancer. Phase I trials are the first step in a series of research studies that test new drugs or treatments on real patients. The main purpose in phase I is to determine if a new drug is safe. One phase II study, which investigates both safety and efficacy is ongoing and is using oleander extracts to treat patients with stage IV pancreatic cancer. The results have not yet been reported.

In one phase I trial of oleandrin, nine metastatic, late-stage cancer patients were given the new drug, and some were also undergoing other treatments including chemotherapy. These patients included those with pancreatic, colon, lung, and renal cell cancers. The patient with renal cell cancer experienced a regression of the tumors for 12 months with just oleander extract. Those with pancreatic and colon cancer experienced stabilization of their cancers. All of the patients experienced extended survival times beyond what had been expected.

The patients who received oleandrin in the clinical trials had good outcomes, although the extract did not cure their cancer. The trial was mostly done to determine if the treatment was safe, and the results showed that it generally was. The patients experienced some toxicity form the oleander medication, but the symptoms were not severe. They included lightheadedness and tingling and burning in the mouth when the drug was taken under the tongue.

The Future of Oleander Cancer Treatments

The clinical trials for oleander extracts and drugs like Anvirzel are promising, but early. This highly poisonous plant may be a future treatment that helps many people struggling with incurable cancers like mesothelioma. For now, though, much more work needs to be done in human clinical trials to be sure the drugs are safe and effective. As results begin to come in from phase II trials, it will remain to be seen if larger groups of patients see results and if there are any serious problems with toxicity.

If you are living with mesothelioma or lung cancer right now, it may be tempting to try to use oleander or oleander extracts to treat your cancer. This is a very dangerous thing to do because the plant is so toxic. It does not take much to kill a person with oleander. The only safe way to try to use this new discovery to treat your cancer is to get into a clinical trial. You can visit the government website for clinical trials and find out if you are eligible to join an ongoing or future oleander study. Talk to your oncologist about this possibility. If you can get into a trial, you may be able to see the effects of this groundbreaking, natural treatment.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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