By LINDSEY TANNER
.c The Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) – A provocative Turkish study suggests that using honey as an ointment during a certain type of colon-cancer surgery can help prevent tumors from recurring.
While the research was done in mice and no one expects hospitals to start stocking operating rooms with honey jars, honey has been used as a folk remedy for healing since biblical times. And a Mayo Clinic cancer expert said the results, though preliminary, are too fascinating to be dismissed.
The research was aimed at improving the safety of laparoscopic surgery, an increasingly popular technique that involves tiny keyhole incisions and skinny instruments. Enthusiasm for the technique has been tempered by some reports that laparoscopy for colon cancer can itself cause tumors to develop in the abdominal wall, along the path the surgical instruments took. The Turkish researchers suggest honey might work as a barrier to tumor cells when it is spread in the incisions. The findings, based on a study of 60 mice, were published in December’s issue of the Archives of Surgery.
Dr. Tonia Young-Fadok, a Mayo Clinic surgeon participating in a U.S. study on whether laparoscopic surgery for colon cancer can cause new tumors, said substances in honey might actually help dissolve tumor cells. “It’s not clear what the power of honey is, but there’s certainly something here that’s of interest,” Young-Fadok said.
Laparoscopies are being used increasingly to treat a variety of conditions that formerly required major operations. Skinny instruments and a slender viewing tube called a laparoscope are inserted through tiny incisions. Carbon dioxide gas is injected into the body cavity to cause the abdomen to swell, creating a work space for surgeons. Colon tumors are essentially the only type of cancer for which doctors use laparoscopy.
Some theorize that the gas might cause cancer cells to shift location and form tumors. Others suggest that inexperienced surgeons might inadvertently cause malignant cells to implant as they extract the tumor. Young-Fadok said some research has found that tumors occur in less than 1 percent of cases and that when the laparoscopy is done by experienced surgeons, the risk is essentially zero.
In the Turkish study, led by Dr. Ismail Hamzaoglu of Istanbul University, researchers injected the mice with air, made neck incisions and injected the animals with tumor cells. The researchers spread honey inside the incisions in one group of mice before and after the injections. All 30 mice without honey developed tumors, compared with only eight of the 30 honey-treated mice. In a commentary accompanying the study, Chicago plastic surgeon Dr. Thomas Mustoe noted that other research has suggested honey has anti-bacterial properties and may be an effective treatment for burns. The study “highlights another potential use,” Mustoe said.