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J BUON. 2019 Nov-Dec;24(6):2583-2586.

Arsenic powder in the treatment of cancer: the invention of French physician Pierre Alliot (1610-1685).

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Department of History of Medicine and Medical Deontology, Medical School, University of Crete, Crete, Greece.


Throughout history arsenic had a dual role as an ideal poison and as a remedy. Derived from the Greek word "arsenikón" meaning masculine or valiant, referring to its powerful activity, arsenic was prescribed since antiquity in mixtures and it was applied topically to treat cancer. In 17th century, the French physician Pierre Alliot (1610-1685) proposed a secret remedy for cancer treatment. His invention, known as Alliot's powder, gained popularity and it was also prescribed to queen mother Anne of Austria (1601-1666) who was suffering from breast cancer, without any effectiveness. Despite the result, Alliot became famous and arsenic based formulas were introduced in medicine to treat malignancies, mainly acute promyelotic leukemia, till nowadays.

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