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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 14:26 GMT
Cancer tackled by wart cream
Basal cell carcinoma may be caused by sun damage
A common form of skin cancer has been successfully treated with a cream usually employed to fight warts.

Basal cell carcinoma is far less malignant than other skin cancers such as melanoma, and rarely spreads to other parts of the body to cause more severe illness.

It is traditionally dealt with either by surgery, freezing or laser treatment - which can all leave extensive scarring.

I think it's a breakthrough because we're stimulating the body's natural defence

Professor Robin Marks
However, if the cream proves effective, it could provide a far more pain-free way of dealing with the condition, and leave less permanent damage.

Professor Robin Marks, an Australian dermatologist, has conducted a two year study into the cream, called imiquimod and marketed as Aldara.

He found that nine out of 10 patients who used the cream for six weeks found that the cancerous area disappeared completely.

Skin samples taken from the site confirmed that no cancer cells remained.

Stimulates immune system

Warts are caused by a virus, and the cream normally works by encouraging the body's own immune defences to work more vigourously against this intruder.

Professor Marks believes its effectiveness against basal cell carcinoma stems from the same effect.

He thinks the cream stimulates the body to produce a chemical called interferon alpha which attacks the cancer cells.

He said: "I think it's a breakthrough because we're stimulating the body's natural defence."

So far the cream has been tested on 99 patients, and similar studies are underway in North America and Europe.

Although the cream is licenced for use on warts, new approvals would be needed in this country before it could be used against basal cell carcinoma.

A UK expert said that it was likely that the cream could prove useful - but not for all people with the disease.

Professor Anthony Quinn, a consultant dermatologist with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said: "It's not clear exactly how it works, and it's unlikely to prove the first choice treatment for most patients.

"Younger patients with more superficial cancers are those most likely to benefit."

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK, although only a very small number of cases involve melanomas, which are potentially more dangerous.

Most are either basal cell carcinomas or other similar growths, which have an exceptionally high cure rate.

It is believed that people exposed to large amounts of sunlight are more likely to develop skin cancers.

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See also:

04 Oct 00 | Health
Sunscreens 'may be toxic'
22 Aug 00 | Health
Vitamin 'protects against cancer'
10 May 00 | Health
Olive oil 'wards off skin cancer'
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