Alternative Cancer Therapies – Herbal Extracts

Alternative Cancer Therapies – Herbal Extracts

Herbal medicine, sometimes known as phytotherapy, has been practised for hundreds of years. It uses the chemical properties of plants, or of mixtures of plant extracts, to treat illness and to promote health. As is the case with many alternative therapies, the aim of herbal medicine is to restore your body’s ability to protect and heal itself.

Alternative Cancer Therapies – Herbal Extracts



Traditional Chinese medicine is one form of treatment that has been used for centuries to treat cancer and to improve the quality of life for those with cancer. A recent study in the United States used laboratory data on the effects of over 70 Chinese herbal extracts on the growth of breast cancer cells in culture. Vaccaria segetalis, Scutellaria barbata and Anemarrhena asphodeloides were all subject to intensive analysis. The latter two were found in laboratory trials to significantly inhibit tumor growth when injected or when given orally. These findings for Scutellaria barbata works by attacking the tumour’s blood vessels, starving the cancer to death by blocking its supply of oxygen and nutrients. Researcher Dr Sylvie Ducki says: “If you target the vessels you are stopping the ‘food’ getting to the tumour and the tumour from spreading.” Studies at Yamagata University School of Medicine in Japan have shown that Anemarrhena asphodeloides inhibits the growth and decreases the viability of gastric cancer cell lines.


New discoveries are being constantly made, suggesting that traditional medicines are likely to be effective. Zyflamend, an olive-oil based herbal extract preparation, suppresses the growth of prostate cancer cells and induces prostate cancer cells to self-destruct, according to a new study reported in Nutrition and Cancer. So far laboratory studies show Zyflamend in culture reduces prostate cancer cell growth by up to 78 per cent. It also induces cancer cell death or “apoptosis.” Dr. Debra L Bemis of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons says: “Together, these results suggest that Zyflamend might have some chemopreventive utility against prostate cancer in men.”



Yet another herb effective in treating cancer is Coptidis rhizoma , or huanglian. The journal Molecular Pharmacology reported studies in which researchers investigated whether huanglian could inhibit tumor cell growth by modulating molecular events directly associated with the cell cycle. They found huanglian inhibited tumor growth and colony formation of gastric, colon, and breast cancer cell lines in a time- and dose-dependent manner. According to the published research cell growth was completely inhibited after three days of continuous drug exposure to 10 mg/ml of herb. The researchers concluded that: “These results indicate that traditional Chinese herbs may represent a new source of agents designed for selective inhibition of cyclin dependent kinases in cancer therapy.”



Traditional herbs also featured in a report in Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology, where scientists examined the pharmacology, cell biology and molecular biology of small-cell lung carcinoma cells treated with four extracts of Chinese herbal medicines. “Many cancer patients take these medicines,” the researchers observed, “but their effects at the cellular level are largely unknown. We were especially interested in the effects on drug-resistant cells, as resistance is a significant clinical problem in lung cancer.” At the end of their research they concluded that: “The Chinese herbal medicine extracts OLEN, SPES and PC-SPES are cytotoxic to both drug-resistant and drug-sensitive lung cancer cells, show some tumor cell specificity compared to their effect on normal cells, and are proapoptotic as measured by DNA breaks and gene expression. The reaction of the tumor cells to these extracts was similar to their reaction to conventional chemotherapeutic drugs.”


Most researchers caution that in the absence of clinical trials, conventional treatments should not be abandoned even by patients seeking to use alternative medicines.

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