Scientists have discovered a chemical extract in green tea that can treat two types of skin cancer, without producing the harmful side effects associated with chemotherapy.
While the epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg) compound is too weak to make an impact when consumed in tea, scientists were able to kill or shrink two-thirds of cancer cells within a month when they applied the extract to tumor cells in the lab.
What's more, the chemical compound did not appear to affect any other healthy cells or tissues in the body.
Researchers from the universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow believe that their study is the first to show that this type of treatment made from the green tea extract has the ability to shrink or destroy cancerous tumors.
Scientists created the treatment by condensing the green tea extract in small vesicle cells that also contained transferrin, a plasma protein that transports iron throughout the blood and naturally targets and attaches onto the surface of cancer cells.
Researchers then applied the treatment to two types of skin cancer: epidermoid carcinoma which forms scales on skin and melanoma which often forms in moles on skin.
Results from the study, published in the journal Nanomedicine, found that 40 percent of tumors vanished in both carcinoma and melanoma after treatment, while 30 per cent of tumors in carcinoma cases and 20 per cent in melanoma cases shrank.
Researchers added that the treatment stabilized an additional 10 percent of melanoma tumors, meaning that the cancer did not grow or shrink.
"These are very encouraging results which we hope could pave the way for new and effective cancer treatments," lead researcher Dr. Christine Dufès, a senior lecturer at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, said in a statement.
"When we used our method, the green tea extract reduced the size of many of the tumors every day, in some cases removing them altogether. By contrast, the extract had no effect at all when it was delivered by other means, as every one of these tumors continued to grow," she added.
More than 76,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma, and about 9,200 people die of it each year in the U.S., according to statistics from the National Cancer Institute.
In the past, researchers have also studied EGCg for the treatment of prostate cancer and leukemia.
"This research could open doors to new treatments for what is still one of the biggest killer diseases in many countries."