Breast cancer
Breast cancer Flickr via Creative Commons

A tea made from a flowering plant found in Pakistan, India, Africa and Spain could help treat breast cancer.

Researchers from Aston University and Russells Hall Hospital have discovered that a herbal tea made from Fagonia cretica, also known as Virgin's Mantle, could be used to treat breast cancer.

In rural Pakistan, women suffering from breast cancer often drink the tea, which is known locally as Dramah. The tea has put breast cancer into remission in many cases, but the patients often report serious side effects, such as loss of hair, drop in blood count or diarrhoea.

To find out whether the herbal tea could cure breast cancer, researchers studied the compounds present in Virgin's Mantle and tested them on breast cancer cells. They found that the plant extract kills cancer cells without damage to normal cells in laboratory conditions.

"More research is needed to establish the role of the extract in cancer management and it now needs to be demonstrated that this extract is as effective in killing cancer cells inside the body as it is within a laboratory. The next steps are to identify which element of the plant is responsible for killing the cancer cells with a view to eventually beginning trials with human cancer patients," said professor Helen Griffith, a researcher at Aston University.

Dr Caitlin Palframan, policy manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, noted that while some of the most important cancer-fighting drugs are originally derived from plants, it is too early to gauge the effectiveness of Virgin's Mantle in treating breast cancer.