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Flowering Lifesaver

Article

A common — but toxic — flower is being used to treat cancer.

You can buy it at your local home store or garden center, or it might already be planted in your yard. It’s pretty and it’s pretty toxic, too. In fact, it’s recommended that you keep it away from kids and pets. But it has played a role in treating cancer and saving lives for almost 60 years.

The scientific name is Catharanthus roseus. The more common name is Madagascar periwinkle, sometimes called a vinca.

black-and-white coloring page of a periwinkle plant

The periwinkle plant has been used in creating anti-cancer medications.

Just drag and drop this image onto your desktop to save and print. Or use your print app on your mobile device.

In the 1950s, scientists found that an extract from the leaves of the plant dramatically decreased the number of white cells in the blood of laboratory mice. Since some types of cancer involve an increase in white blood cells, scientists realized that maybe the plant might contain chemicals that fight cancer.

Later, another extract from the plant was found to be a strong cell division inhibitor. Another useful tool in fighting cancer.

In the 1960s, two drugs, vinblastine and vincristine, that were made from these extracts, were approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration as treatments of several types of cancer.

Unfortunately, it takes a truck load of these plants to make one small syringe of either of these drugs.

Currently there’s research into finding easier-to-extract and more effective cancer treatments that may exist in nature. My hope is they’ll find a cure instead of just treatments.

By the way, I did not write this to try and “beautify” chemotherapy. The only beautiful thing about any chemotherapy drug is that it has the potential to save the life of someone with cancer.

I hope you enjoy doing the coloring page.

 

Other stories and art activities:

Cancer and the Butterfly Effect

A Small, Inspiring Bushy-Tailed Visitor as a Distraction from Cancer