Cancerina: Characteristics, Habitat, Uses And Properties

The cancerina ( Semialarium mexicanum ) is a herbaceous or shrubby plant medicinal properties belonging to the family Celastraceae . Native to the dry forests from Panama to Mexico, it is used by hand for the treatment of cancer.

Known locally as aguatcui, kills lice, chilonché, monkey ear, rosewood or cancerine, it is used in traditional medicine. Its therapeutic properties are provided by chemical elements such as alkaloids, sterols and triterpenoids.

Cancerina is a 2-5 m bush or a 5-25 m tall tree, sometimes climbing or creeping; characterized by a glabrescent stem sometimes slightly pubescent with obovate or elliptical leathery leaves with crenate margins.

The light green florets contain small filaments and form inflorescences with terminal racemes; the fruits are semi-shaped capsules. Associated with ecosystems of dry forests and tropical forests, its bark is commercialized by hand in the local markets of Central America.

The Semialarium mexicanum species is one of the main medicinal plants traditionally used in central and southern Mexico. It is generally used to treat gastric ulcers, kidney problems, uterine conditions, cancer, vomiting, diarrhea, and psoriasis.

General characteristics


Herbaceous plant or small tree that can reach 2-25 m in height, perennial and subdeciduous, with a wide partially globose crown. The stem or cylindrical stem with a cracked bark and grayish tones.

Simple leaves of opposite arrangement; elliptical, oblong or obovate; 6-12 cm long, 2-6 cm wide. Leathery in texture; slightly serrated margins; stipules generally absent or very short.

Tiny diclamid greenish-white flowers arranged in partially dichotomous cyymose inflorescences of 2-6 cm; hermaphrodites. Obovate, flattened capsular fruits of 5-6 cm, trilobed with a woody appearance, with a central semialate dehiscence and emarginate apex.

It usually blooms from December to October. Fruiting is maintained throughout the annual cycle.


  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Division: Magnoliophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Order: Celastrales
  • Family: Celastraceae
  • Genus: Semialarium
  • Species: Semialarium mexicanum (Miers) Mennega

Gender designation derives from the Latin semi -mitad-, alar -Ala- and – ium which characterization. Which means -characterized by having the seed half winged- refers to the type of seeds of the Semialarium paniculatum species .


  • Cancerina or Hemiangium excelsum (Kunth) ACSm.
  • Louse vine or Hippocratea excelsa Kunth
  • Mata Louse or Hippocratea mexicana Miers
  • Hippocratea uniflora Moç. & Sessé ex DC.
  • Prionostemma setuliferum Miers

Common names

Cancerina, aguatcui, chilonché, bejuco del lojo, crucillo, guacharo, rose fruit, ear of mico, matapiojo, rosewood, ear of monkey, oak.

Active components

Cancerine has a wide variety of chemical elements, including triterpenes: canophyllol, canofilal, celastrol, excelcite, friedelin, tingenone, pristimerin, and b-sitosterol. As well as the sesquiterpene alkaloids: emarginanine A, hypocretein I, II and III, maytein and cofilic acid.

Habitat and distribution

The Semialarium mexicanum species inhabits tropical dry forest and savanna ecosystems, along water courses. It develops on loamy and clayey soils, slightly stony with good drainage, low fertility and in dry environments, from 0-2,000 meters above sea level.

This species grows and develops in open fields that are sometimes muddy, forming part of the secondary vegetation of Quercus or Pinus forests . On the banks of beaches and streams, in high, middle and low jungles, flooded evergreen, deciduous and sub-deciduous.

It is distributed throughout the Mesoamerican region , from southern Mexico to Costa Rica, even in some areas of Panama. In Mexico it is located mainly in the regions of Campeche, Durango, Quintana Roo and Yucatán; in Costa Rica in the Central Pacific, Arenal, Tempisque and Guanacaste.



This species is generally used in natural ecosystems.


The strength, resistance and adaptation of the plant enable it to stabilize water courses and preserve soils. As well as the protection of aquifers, prevent erosion problems and the restoration of degraded soils.


The bark of the cacerina has insecticidal properties, being used to control mites, lice and various ectoparasites. Specifically for the control of Nephotettix cincticeps  (green rice cigarette) and  Nilaparvata lugens (brown rice leafhopper).


The plant is applied to wounds and is used for the treatment of cancer. It is used to heal ulcers and skin conditions, inflammation, kidney disease, uterine infections, and gastric ulcers.

Medicinal properties

The Semialarium mexicanum  or cancerina species is used against cancer and to heal ulcerative wounds due to its healing and anti-inflammatory properties. It is recommended to boil 5 grams of root in 5 liters of water to relieve vaginal discharge, inflamed kidneys and gastric ulcers.

The root decoctions and plasters have anti-inflammatory and vulnerable properties, they are used to relieve skin ulcers and inflammations. Indeed, the tea or infusion of pieces of bark are used to treat skin and uterine problems, ulcers, sores, amenorrhea and dysentery.

In case of bumps and bruises, a piece of root in half a liter of boiled water and taken three times a day calms the discomfort. Likewise, this potion diluted in three liters of water favors wound healing if consumed regularly.

For the treatment of chronic sores and ulcers, as well as vaginal discharge, it is relieved with the topical application of the decoction of pieces of cancer in a liter of water. Internal inflammations and gastritis are calmed by ingesting a strong tea prepared with a large piece of root in a liter of water.

The active elements that are part of the chemical composition of cancerine provide it with anti-inflammatory, disinfectant, healing and purifying properties; relevant aspects for the treatment of cancer, as well as to alleviate tumors.

In this regard, recent studies have evaluated the cytotoxicity of the compounds present in the S. mexicanum root on breast cancer cells. Indeed, the results made it possible to determine that the root of S. mexicanum has a potential application in the treatment of this disease.


The carcinogenic has the same restrictions of most medicinal plants, as well as chemical and natural products. For this reason, they are not recommended for infants and when pregnant or suspected.

It is not recommended in patients with serious pathologies and continuous symptomatic treatments that require the ingestion of drugs. In fact, the doctor should be consulted before use or application.


  1. González Córdova, GE (2017) Elucidation of active compounds of phytopharmaceuticals for the treatment of breast cancer (Master’s Thesis) Instituto Politécnico Nacional. Research Center in Applied Science and Advanced Technology. Mexico. 121 pp.
  2. Gutiérrez, Mario J., Arguello Correa, Leticia and Gómez Correa, Cesar A. (2018) Pharmacological management of aqueous extracts of Cancerina (Semialarium mexicanum) as antiteratogen and cytotoxic. Technological University of Morelia. Technological University of Morelia. XV meeting Participation of Women in Science.
  3. Maldonado-Cubas, J., San Martin-Martínez, E., Quiroz-Reyes, CN, & Casañas-Pimentel, RG (2018). Cytotoxic effect of Semialarium mexicanum (Miers) Mennega root bark extracts and fractions against breast cancer cells. Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants, 24 (6), 1185-1201.
  4. Semialarium mexicanum (2018) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Recovered at:
  5. Semialarium mexicanum (Miers) Mennega (2018) Species for restoration. IUCN. Recovered in:
  6. Semialarium mexicanum (Miers) Mennega (2018) World Flora Online. Recovered at:

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