Just Ask the Expert: An herbal treatment for cancer?


Just Ask the Expert: An herbal treatment for cancer?

Dr. Fan welcomes oncology questions from veterinarians and veterinary technicians.
Click here to submit your question, or send an e-mail to
with the subject line "Oncology questions."

Dr. Timothy M. Fan
Do you have experience with or an opinion about the use of Neoplasene in cancer therapy?

A. This commercially available botanical extract of the bloodroot plant, Neoplasene (Buck Mountain Animal Health), has been marketed for topical or systemic treatment of various maladies in companion animals, including cancer. Several active ingredients have been identified in bloodroot extract, including sanguinarine, which exerts anticarcinogenic and anti-inflammatory effects.1

The likely mechanism for how sanguinarine, or Neoplasene, kills animal cells, both cancerous and normal, is by inhibiting cellular sodium, potassium-adenosine triphosphatase (ATPase) activity.2 Loss of sodium, potassium-ATPase activity results in cellular swelling and subsequent necrotic cell death. When bloodroot extract is applied to tumors, either topically or intralesionally, cancer cells and surrounding normal cells will die and potentially leave a large necrotic defect in the anatomically treated area. Given the undesirable necrotic cell death effects, veterinarians and pet owners opting to use bloodroot extracts as a form of herbal chemotherapy should expect and be prepared to manage large open wounds for several weeks until healthy granulation tissue has formed and wound closure is achieved.

Because of these facts, the medically judicious use of bloodroot extracts should be limited to very small or superficial cancerous lesions.

Timothy M. Fan, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (internal medicine and oncology)
Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Illinois
Urbana, IL 61802


1. Gupta SC, Kim JH, Prasad S, et al. Regulation of survival, proliferation, invasion, angiogenesis, and metastasis of tumor cells through modulation of inflammatory pathways by nutraceuticals. Cancer Metastasis Rev 2010;29(3):405-434.

2. Cohen HG, Seifen EE, Straub KD, et al. Structural specificity of the NaK-ATPase inhibition by sanguinarine, an isoquinoline benzophenanthridien alkaloid. Biochem Pharmacol 1978;27(21):2555-2558.