written by: Dr. Sloan, MD.
• edited by: Diana Cooper
• updated: 2/16/2011
Herbal remedies for cancer is a topic of interest among all researchers. Besides the conventional treatment of cancer which involves drugs, radiation and surgery, alternative herbal cancer treatments are getting more attention nowadays.
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Alternative Herbal Treatments for Cancer
The benefits of alternative herbal cancer treatments include boosting the immune system to kill the cancer cells, reducing the growth of cancer cells, shrinking the size of the tumor and antagonizing the hormone that is feeding the cancer cells. Herbal cancer treatments have anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties that promote the healing of the damaged cells after treatment, as chronic inflammation is associated with cancer risk.
Various laboratory investigations have been carried out to ascertain the benefits of herbal medicine in cancer treatment. Some of the laboratory results are quite favorable but similar results were not convincing enough when the tests are done in human patients. Furthermore, It may take up to 14 years for a drug to reach the consumer market and USD 1 billion expenditure is expected during the different phases of clinical trials.
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Herbal Products Used in Herbal Cancer Treatments
Common herbal products used by cancer patients include:
Aloe Vera: It helps in soothing the burn wounds sustained by radiotherapy. Some patients find the aloe vera products can treat constipation. Aloe vera can be applied directly onto the wound on the skin upon being squeezed from the leaves. The product also can be purchased from pharmacy as gel or cream.
Black Cohosh: An herbal product which is more of a supplement rather than a treatment option. It is commonly used to relieve the symptoms of menopause as a result of hormone treatment for breast cancer patients. However, certain reports published that black cohosh can potentially cause liver failure though the mechanism is unknown. A dose of 100mg is considered very high and is associated with side effects like headache, giddiness and slow heart rate.
Ginseng: Studies show that it inhibits the inflammatory process that leads to cancer generation. Ginseng also causes the activation of the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein. The ultimate outcome is killing the cancer cells (apoptosis) and halting cancer cell progression.
Dong Quai: Extracts of dong quai demonstrated anti-tumor effects which can be attributed to its inhibitory effects on tumor invasions, metastasis of cancer cells and tumor suppression. Besides that, it has effects on down regulating pro-inflammatory agents. However, due to is estrogenic property, patients with hormone-sensitive cancers should avoid dong quai.
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A Word of Caution for Patients Using Alternative Herbal Cancer Treatment
While different doctors may have different views on herbal cancer treatments, it is always advisable to discuss and inform the treating doctors on the various herbs that the patient wishes to use. Self herbal treatment without medical supervision may cause more harm to patients.
However, if managed carefully under close supervision, herbal medicine when combined with chemotherapy could potentially enhance the efficacy level and lower toxic reactions. Thus, that is certainly good news for the combination of herbal medicine in cancer treatments in the future, although much remains to be discovered in this area. After all, Vincristine a type of chemotherapy used for leukemia and lymphoma is of herbal origin too.
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1) Anticancer effects of Chinese herbal medicine, science or myth? By Wen-jing Ruan,Mao-de Lai,and Jian-guang Zhou
2) Lee WH, Jin JS, Tsai WC, et al. Biological inhibitory effects of the Chinese herb danggui on brain astrocytoma. Pathobiology. 2006;73