TEST OF HERBAL THERAPY FOR PROSTATE CANCER
Herbal supplements may have more potent medicinal properties than many physicians and medical consumers recognize.
A small trial of an ancient Chinese herbal remedy - conducted at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ) - indicates that a mix of eight plant extracts called PC-SPES is a powerful therapy for prostate cancer, but also has harmful side effects. Capsules of the herbal mix, made by Botaniclab of California, contain saw palmetto, chrysanthemum, isatis indigotica, licorice, ganoderma lucidum, pseudo ginseng, rabdosia rubescens and scutellaria baicalensis.
CINJ researcher Robert S. DiPaola, MD, and his team conducted the studies with eight prostate cancer patients who had refused conventional treatment for recurrent disease, but were already taking the herbal mixture. The investigators found that PC-SPES had a strong estrogen effect and lowered PSA (protein specific antigen) and testosterone levels. But its side effects included blood clots, breast tenderness and loss of sex drive. The research was published in the September 17 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
Although thousands of men take the herb capsules, and thousands more have heard of PC-SPES from the Internet and patient support groups, the researcher warns against the therapy because of inadequate testing. "This is an example of how potent some of the alternative medicines can be," says DiPaola, an oncologist who is also assistant professor of medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "It's as potent as any drug." He has called for a more extensive study of the herbal remedy.
More than half of cancer patients report using some kind of alternative therapy, often without telling their physicians. "This study has far reaching implications not only for prostate cancer patients, but for physicians, scientists and the public at large," observes DiPaola. "It is crucial that scientists conduct further research to determine the safety and efficacy of all alternative medicines, as well as their interactions with standard therapies."
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey