Traditional medicinal herbs have been used for thousands of years in various cultures to treat different diseases. Some of these herbs have been found to have anti-cancer properties. They contain bioactive compounds, such as alkaloids, terpenoids, and flavonoids, that can inhibit cancer cell growth, induce cancer cell death, and prevent the spread of cancer.
Ginseng, a widely known medicinal herb in China, contains ginsenosides, which has been shown to have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antitumor activities. Astragalus contains polysaccharides, flavonoids, and triterpenoid saponins that have been found to enhance the body’s resistance to cancer by improving the immune system to promote efficacy of chemotherapy and preventing metastasis.
Due to their anti-tumor properties, medicinal herbs have garnered the interest of oncologists who are exploring the potential synergistic benefits of combining them with first-line chemotherapy to improve survival rates of cancer patients. They has found that combining chemotherapy with medicinal herbs may enhance the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug by several mechanisms, including:
- Synergistic effect: Some medicinal herbs have been found to have anti-cancer properties that may work synergistically with fluoropyrimidine, increasing its effectiveness in killing cancer cells.
- Reduced side effects: Some medicinal herbs may help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This may help patients tolerate the chemotherapy better and continue their treatment
- Immune system support: Some medicinal herbs may help boost the immune system, which can help the body fight cancer cells more effectively
A Chinese research team explored the efficacy and safety of ginseng-based traditional medicine preparations in combination with fluoropyrimidine-based chemotherapy for the treatment of advanced gastric cancer. The study was published in the journal PLoS One in 2023. They conducted systematic review and meta-analysis on 26 eligible randomized controlled trials, involving 1960 patients with advanced gastric cancer, from eight electronic databases.
Chinese traditional medicine offers numerous medicinal herbs with anti-tumor properties beyond the popular ginseng, which is renowned for its active compound, Ginsenosides Rg3, a specific derivative of ginseng has been approved and utilized in conjunction with chemotherapy for cancer treatment in China. Ginseng-based traditional medicine preparations combine ginseng and other herbs such as A. mongholicus, E. senticosus, Mylabris, A. macrocephala, G. uralensis, and O. japonicus.
The researchers looked at many biomarkers, including tumor response, the quality of life, proportions of peripheral blood lymphocytes, adverse drug reactions, and other cancer biomarkers. The analysis results were as follows:
- Patients in the combination group had better objective response and disease control rates than those treated with single agent.
- The combination group had a better quality of life and higher proportions of immune cells, indicating that the combination treatment promoted immune function.
- Lower levels of cancer biomarkers like CA19-9, CA72-4, and CEA were found in the combination treatment group, suggesting promising prognosis.
- Ginseng-based traditional medicine preparations reduced the incidence of various adverse drug reactions, including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, reduction in white blood cell, hemoglobin and platelet count, liver and renal dysfunction, during chemotherapy.
The study result indicates that ginseng-containing traditional medicine preparations could potentially enhance the efficacy of fluoropyrimidine-based chemotherapy for advanced gastric cancer.
Traditional medicinal herbs have unique anti-tumor properties and can deliver synergistic effects when used together with chemotherapy in cancer treatment. Incorporating traditional wisdom and natural remedies into cancer treatment plan could be an effective complement to conventional treatments, although more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of using these herbs in cancer treatment.
Hu, J., Cheng, M., Li, Y., Shi, B., He, S., Yao, Z., Jiang, J., Yu, H., He, Z., Zhao, Y., Zheng, H., Hua, B., & Liu, R. (2023). Ginseng-containing traditional medicine preparations in combination with fluoropyrimidine-based chemotherapy for advanced gastric cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 18(4), e0284398. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0284398