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Former Georgia pastor under investigation for herbal paste promoted as cancer cure

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ROCHELLE, Ga. (AP) _ Curtis Brown carries business cards with old pictures of his tumors, including an egg-sized growth on his neck. He says they were each shed after the application of a flesh-eating paste containing the medicinal herb bloodroot.

``I cured myself of cancer,'' the cards read.

Georgia's medical board and the federal Food and Drug Administration don't share Brown's enthusiasm for the paste.

The state board has accused its maker, Dan Raber, a rural pastor-turned-healer, of practicing medicine without a license. FDA agents recently raided Raber's business, and a doctor could lose her medical license for allegedly knowing Raber was giving people the paste _ not approved for the treatment of cancer _ and not reporting him.

Raber's paste is described by the medical board as ``a caustic, tissue-destroying substance that eats away human skin and flesh.'' On his Web site, Raber claims the remedy helped him remove a tumor on his wrist, and he displays graphic before-and-after photos of others who have used the paste, including women with scabs on their breasts and men with scarred faces.

While the state board has leveled serious allegations against Raber, he has not been charged with a crime. Prosecutors are studying the case.

Raber has never responded publicly to the board's allegations. In an interview with The Associated Press, his son, Kelly, defended his father and his products, which also include enzyme capsules they claim will destroy cancerous cells.

``The herb does not kill healthy tissue,'' Kelly Raber said, smearing some of the paste on his nose. ``Instead, it performs a process known as apoptosis that allows the (cancer) cells to self-destruct.''

He said his father's paste is being singled out because it's an old remedy that can't be patented and therefore wouldn't generate large profits for the medical establishment or giant pharmaceutical companies.

Dan Raber was named in a state complaint filed against Dr. Lois March, an ear, nose and throat specialist in south Georgia who risks losing her medical license for allegedly providing pain medication to 12 patients who had received Raber's bloodroot treatments. The board said seven of the patients had breast cancer and that the doctor knew or should have known that Raber's use of bloodroot ``mutilated their breasts and caused excruciating pain.''

March has denied any wrongdoing. ``These are wild accusations that aren't true,'' she said earlier this month when reached by telephone at her office in nearby Cordele.

During a 2003 crackdown on alternative medicine merchants who made false claims on the Internet, the FDA shut down a Louisiana company that sold a bloodroot paste and its owner was sent to prison. An Indianapolis woman who said she used products from that company and Raber's in 2001 contends in a lawsuit that her nose was eaten away, exposing the bone and forcing her to have seven reconstructive surgeries.

A settlement was reached in the suit against the company; Raber is also expected to settle soon, said the woman's lawyer, John Muller.

To prove bloodroot's effectiveness, Raber cites numerous books and studies that support the use of salves and pastes containing herbs and other ingredients for treating skin cancer. Such preparations are supposed to isolate the tumor from healthy tissue and cause it to fall out.

Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council, said bloodroot has been used for years by nontraditional healers to treat skin cancers, but he acknowledged ``the efficacy has been unproven from a scientific point of view.''

Brown is a believer. After years of sun exposure, the retired farmer was plagued with skin cancer. Doctors surgically removed cancerous growths from his face and arms, but when a 3-inch-long tumor grew on the left side of his neck in 2002, Brown instead tried the paste, even though it meant nearly a month of excruciating pain.

``None of my people ever survived the conventional way,'' said the 71-year-old Brown, who listed relatives who had succumbed to cancer. ``I knew there was a better way.''

Brown said after 26 days of using the paste his tumor fell off, leaving a crater in his neck that eventually healed. A scar is hardly noticeable just below his jaw.

Brown said he promotes the paste strictly to help others and receives no compensation from Raber or his company, Deodorant Stone Manufacturing Co.

Michael Bradley of Monroe, Ga., a Vietnam veteran who said he was exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange, said he decided to try Raber's paste after doctors confirmed he had a large melanoma on his upper back.

``It came out after 30 days,'' Bradley said. ``It was very painful, but I'm still alive. I know a lot of people who didn't go that route and they're dead.''
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