Sunday, December 20, 2015

Arsenic as a Cure for Cancer by John Shaw 1907

ARSENIC as a Cure for Cancer by John Shaw 1907

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ARSENIC has been used in the treatment of cancer from very ancient times. John Hunter admitted that it appeared to have the power, not only of removing cancerous parts, but of altering in some measure the disposition to cancer and the effects of that disposition. The passage dealing with this point is of great interest:(a)—“Arsenic seems to have some power of this kind, and its effects might be increased by being used internally and externally; but its use is very dangerous, and I am afraid insufficient for the disease. This is a remedy which enters into the empirical nostrums which are in vogue for curing cancer, and among which Plunkett’s holds the highest rank. But this is no new discovery, for Senertus, who lived the Lord knows how long ago, mentions a Roderiguez, and Flusius, who obtained considerable fame and fortune by such a composition. I was desired to meet Mr. Plunkett, to decide on the propriety of using his medicine in a particular case. I have no objection to meet anybody. It was the young one; the old one is dead, and might have died himself of a cancer for aught I know. I asked him what he intended to do with his medicine. He said, ‘To cure the patient.’ ‘Let me know what you mean by that. Do you mean to alter the diseased state of the parts, or do you mean by your medicine to remove the parts diseased?’ ‘I mean to destroy them,’ he replied. ‘Well, then, that is nothing more than I or any other surgeon can do, with less pain to the patient.’”

The principal danger, it appears, in the use of arsenic as a caustic is due to timidity in employing a sufficiently large proportion of the remedy in the caustic. The arsenic must be sufficiently strong to set up an inflammatory reaction, whereby the cancer is thrown off as a slough. The same principle has been observed in poisoning by arsenic administered internally. Concerning the fatal dose Drs. Guy and Ferrier wrote:(a)—“In a solution, as small a quantity as two grains may prove fatal. Two grains and a half, contained in two ounces of fly-water, killed a strong, healthy girl, aged 19, in thirty-six hours (Letheby). Much smaller quantities have given rise to alarming symptoms. On the other hand, recovery has taken place from doses of half an ounce, and even an ounce and a half, of the poison in substance. These larger doses are often taken on a full stomach, and are promptly rejected with the food, or carried away by the brisk action of the bowels.”

Concerning Plunkett’s remedy, Mr. Samuel Cooper said (b) that in Ireland it had “long possessed very great celebrity for the cure of cancer,” and admitted that “it certainly sometimes produces a salutary change in the appearance of the sore although “we have reason to regret,” said he, “that this change is usually not of a permanent continuance.” If I held a brief for Plunkett’s “cure,” or even for arsenic, as the remedy par excellence for cancer, I should point out that in Ireland, the age-constitution of which is more favourable to the development of cancer (if the pronouncement of Dr. Bashford, Superintendent of Research of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, be admitted as correct), the mortality is lower, and I should ask whether the deduction is not obvious that the treatment by quack remedies is more favourable to the cure of cancer than the surgical operations which presumably constitute some part of “the more favourable conditions prevailing in England.” But, without going so far, it is certainly desirable to point out that modern research seems to justify to the hilt a practice which has continued from ancient days. Arsenic not only has a specific selective action on the tissues which are the seat of cancer, but it induces in these tissues those processes of fatty degeneration which are recognised as constituting an important part in the degenerative changes which lead to the disappearance of cancerous masses. The reader will also have noted John Hunter’s opinion that arsenic has some power of modifying the disposition to cancer.

Personally I have no experience of the value of quack caustic remedies excepting from hearsay. Of arsenic administered hypodermically (particularly in combination with iodine) I have a high opinion, although I shall confine the illustrative cases to the work of others.

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