TEA tree oil could play a key role in the treatment of skin cancer, according to researchers.
Scientists at the Biomedical Sciences School at the University of Western Australia showed the oil could significantly inhibit the growth of cancerous tumours in mice, as well as shrink them.
Their findings were presented at a recent tea tree conference at the Wollongbar Primary Industries Institute.
“What this research tells us is that tea tree oil (TTO), in the right formulation, may play a role as a clinically effective topical treatment for skin cancer in humans,” research associate Sara Greay said.
She said she was ‘really excited’ by the results.
“If topical TTO can slow down aggressive solid tumours grown under the skin in mice, then its potential to be effective against cancers that grow within the skin is enormous,” Dr Greay said.
Her work now was to look at exactly how the oil worked – whether its effect was to stimulate the immune system, thereby helping the body defend itself, or cytotoxic, by penetrating the skin and directly attacking and killing the tumours.
“We suspect it’s doing both,” Dr Greay said.
The next step is to look at tea tree oil’s effectiveness in humans.
“We want to do a small clinical trial on people with pre-cancerous lesions, possibly next year,” she said.
Dr Greay stressed that members of the public should not use the oil to self-medicate their skin cancers.
“If you have symptoms you should go and see a dermatologist,” she said.
She also said that tea tree oil may not be suitable for all types of skin cancers.
If it was found not to penetrate into tumours, or the ‘margin’ of tumours could not be detected, surgery would still be necessary, she said.
Northern Rivers skin cancer clinicians said they could not comment without studying the report.
More than three-quarters of the 450-tonne crop of tea tree grown in Australia comes from the Northern Rivers.
“This is the original home of the tea tree plant,” said Tony Larkman, industry development officer with the Australian Tea Tree Industryassociation.
The region is also home to one of the world’s most alarming skin cancer rates.
Ballina has the highest rate of skin cancer in the North Coast region, with 119.4 incidents every year per 100,000 people. That compares with a NSW average of 48.4 per 100,000 and a Far North Coast average of 73.7.Deaths from skin cancer in men in NSW have soared by 11 per cent in the past 10 years.
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