Honey may fight tumor recurrence

Most people think of honey as something to put in tea, but preliminary research suggests that the sweet spread may keep tumors from recurring after a certain type of colon-cancer surgery.

In experiments with mice, Turkish researchers found that honey seemed to block tumors from taking hold in the animals. The investigators made incisions in the animals' necks and injected them with tumor cells. Half of the mice had honey smeared in the incisions before and after the tumor-cell injections. Only 8 of the 30 developed tumors, compared with all of the honey-less mice.

These findings suggest honey could be used during a minimally-invasive surgery used for colon cancer called laparoscopy, Dr. Ismail Hamzaoglu and colleagues from Istanbul University report in the December issue of Archives of Surgery.

Sometimes referred to as "key-hole" surgery, laparoscopy is increasingly being used as an alternative to major, open surgery for a variety of conditions. In colon cancer surgery, it allows surgeons to remove tumors through just a few tiny incisions while they watch an enlarged view of the organ on a monitor. However, some research has suggested that laparoscopy itself may cause tumors to recur at the points of incision.

According to the Turkish researchers, applying honey to the surgical wound sites may set up a barrier against new tumors. But a colon cancer surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told Reuters Health that may not be what is going on.

Honey, Dr. Tonia Young-Fadok said, is "hypertonic," meaning it may be able to enter cells and make them burst. Many substances, such as a dense saline solution, might have had the same effect in these experiments, she noted.

"This does not show honey has anti-cancer effects," Young-Fadok said.

She also pointed to the larger issue of whether laparoscopy indeed carries a significant risk of tumor recurrence. Young-Fadok is part of a multicenter trial comparing the recurrence risks of laparoscopy and traditional surgery.

Another study, she said, has already shown that tumors came back about 1% of the time with laparoscopy, which is in line with the average rate for conventional surgery. The most important factor is the surgeon, according to Young-Fadok.

"In careful, experienced hands," she said, "this is not a big issue."

While the current findings are interesting and may warrant further study, Young-Fadok added, the risk of incision-site recurrences is so low that a human study would have to be extremely large to show any benefit of adding honey to the surgical protocol.

Thanks to HealthCentral.com and Reuters


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