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Notable Notes
September 2017

Arsenic in Dermatology—From Dermatologic Therapy to Carcinogen

Author Affiliations
  • 1Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Department of Dermatology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Dermatol. 2017;153(9):905. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.2658

Arsenic—a metalloid element—has a notable history as a toxin and poison. The Greek physician Dioscorides first reported arsenic’s toxic potential in ad 40, particularly the gastrointestinal tract adverse effects associated with its ingestion.1 It is thought that 15 years later, Nero used arsenic to murder his stepbrother, Tiberius Britannicus, whose death facilitated Nero’s ascension as Emperor of Rome. Historically, arsenic has also been used as medical treatment for a variety of conditions, including several dermatologic diseases. With time, the cutaneous sequelae of arsenic exposure were increasingly appreciated, furthering the intrigue of a substance that over millennia has served as both poison and cure.